Friday, May 05, 2006

Fall 2005 Volume 1 Number 3

Editor: Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

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The following article is the flyer that will accompany the newly reissued panoramas memorializing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

A Short History of

the Pillsbury Picture Company

Founded by A. C. Pillsbury, March 1906

Refounded, March 2004

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

The Pillsbury Picture Company went through several incarnations during and before its formal founding less than four weeks before the tremors of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire destroyed that city.

Arthur Clarence Pillsbury started his first business while still a student at Stanford. He had followed his older brother, Ernest Sargent, to that institution as students in the first and second classes while the University was still under construction.

The Pillsbury Family had settled in Auburn, California in 1883 and the mother, Dr. Harriet Foster Pillsbury started a medical practice. Her husband, Dr. Harlin Henry Pillsbury, focused on putting in a fruit ranch, assisted by the boys.

The first business A. C. started himself was a shop that supplied the needs of students and residents for two edge technologies, bicycles and cameras. The business stood near the small hospital run by Drs. Harriet and Harlin and also supplied their living quarters.

While still at Stanford A. C. invented a specimen slicer to produce slides for a microscope. He traveled around campus on the motorcycle he built in his shop, the first in California. He was rarely without a camera in his hands and sold copies of his photos in his shop. These included the solios, small contact photos pasted onto embossed cardboard, that held the images of such events as the first fraternity Rush as well as views of the newly constructed buildings on campus.

His final invention while on campus was the first circuit panorama camera. He produced the plans and showed it to his senior adviser who told him it could not work. A. C. built it anyway. It worked. He quit school and took the camera, along with his father, to the Yukon, producing the panorama images familiar to many of the opening of the mining towns and trails filled with hopeful miners hiking towards them.

The miners in the raw new towns were delighted to pay in gold dust for panorama photos of those towns and themselves. A. C. accomplished this by taking a canoe from the headwaters of the Yukon to the ocean, photographing this hive of human activity along the way while enjoying the wilderness and living off the land. Dr. Harlin had staying in Anchorage to fine tune his chess playing. A. C. developed the photos in the portable dark room he installed in his canoe.

In 1900, after two years of adventures that included ship wrecks and gaping chasms in errant glaciers, he spent time photographing Washington State and then headed south to Los Angeles. His brother Ernest was now a practicing physician in Los Angeles. A. C. helped build and install the solar heating system in the new Pillsbury home that stood at the corner of what is now Hollywood Blvd and North Las Palmas. Then, Hollywoodland was a residential neighborhood with large homes surrounded by large properties. Drs. Harriet and Harlin had settled in, attending the First Congregationalist Church in Los Angeles and visiting with family in Redlands and Tahoe. The automobile had become a family fixture in 1900 when Dr. Ernest purchased his first Locomobile.

During this period A. C. photographed much of the South West from the deserts to the Grand Canyon, to Catalina. By 1900 he had a catalog of images that included 1000 panoramas.

In 1903 A. C. headed back to San Francisco to a job on the San Francisco Examiner as a photojournalist. He quit that job to found the Pillsbury Picture Company. They toasted the event in orange juice because the family was White Feather, meaning that they supported voluntary abstinence from alcohol.

On the morning of April 18, 1906 A. C. grabbed his camera before he hit the floor. Moments later he had possessed himself of a graaflax camera and his panorama. He was on his way to the City.

In the aftermath of the Quake A. C. married, took a honeymoon that included a tour of all of California, and purchased, for the second time, a studio in Yosemite. His first bride, a fellow student at Stanford, had left him because he had purchased a studio in Yosemite with Julius Boysen in 1897, two years after his first visit to Yosemite by bicycle from San Francisco. He sold his share to Boysen and, heartbroken, headed to the Yukon. Now he had returned.

In 1906 he also photographed all of the Missions in California and took panoramas throughout the state, showing the changes since those he had taken in 1900.

Throughout the period of 1900 – 1903 he was often back in Yosemite and always with his camera in hand. There he photographed Theodore Roosevelt during the President's trip there in 1903.

The next four years would be his 'artistic period.' The photos he produced in this period show that he along with producing prodigious numbers of images that reflected his background as a photojournalist he also was thinking about the artistic effects that he could produce with his camera. Sunshine through Redwoods, and other images reflect amazing depth, capturing strong emotional tones. He also began producing and selling d'orotones, photos backed in gold that had an almost holographic sheen and intensity.

With shops in Yosemite and in San Francisco he had time to consider other issues. Edge technology continued to call. In 1909 he used a balloon he named, The Fairy to photograph the ongoing rebuilding of San Francisco. During this process the balloon, which had been tethered from a tug in the harbor ripped free. Holding on like grim death to his camera he was catapulted into the sky. The afternoon papers reported him lost but he returned, muddied but with film mostly intact. In 1910 he took the first ship to ship photos from the same balloon at the San Dominguez Air Show in Los Angeles. As he so often did, he wrote an article, illustrating it himself with the photos. This article appeared in Sunset Magazine.

In 1911, after a life of extraordinary invention and adventure he became a father three times over when in the aftermath of the death of his brother, Dr. Ernest and his sister-in-law in an auto accident, he adopted their three children, ages 12 – 6.

His wife, AEtheline had agreed to this only if the children spent six months of the year in Yosemite. So for the on the kids were expected to finish essential school work and be ready to go to Yosemite as soon as the Studio opened. When they returned school was already in session. The Studio of the Three Arrows became their real home.

In 1912 A. C. made and showed the first nature film at the Studio of the Three Arrows in Yosemite. Young Arthur F., then seven, years old, had helped identify figures for the timing device that A. C. made to develop the first lapse-time motion picture camera. A. C. had been watching the wild flowers disappear and he was determined to allow people to see and understand why that should not happen. The showing took place on the porch of the Three Arrows in Old Village. Over the years he worked on developing better cameras to improve the process. As had been the case in the previous generation, the whole family worked together.

The kids were lonely the first year, missing their friends. So A. C. invited the friends to come up and stay at the studio, living and working in the compound that then stood clustered near the Yosemite Chapel. It became a School in the sense that many things, from photography to art to history, to edge technology were studied and explored along with the heights and delights of Yosemite.

In 1924 the Studio of the Three Arrows moved to New Village. In the next decades A. C. would continue to invent and lecture. His goal was to provide the tools that extended the sight of humanity beyond its boundaries. He succeeded. His inventions would provide the tools that scientists still use today.

The children grew up, had children of their own, and remembered.

List of inventions after 1920.

1922 – Patents first mass producing photo postcard machine

1927 – Finishes invention and construction of first microscopic notion picture camera

1929 – First X-ray motion picture camera

1929 – Patents film advancer for motion picture camera

1930 – First underwater motion picture camera

1942 – Identifies process of osmosis in plants

You are invited on a

Tour of Yosemite's Old Village

Friday, October 21, 2005 – 10:00AM

Starting in the Parking Lot of the Yosemite Chapel

The Tour will meet up in the parking lot and then we will walk over to the place where my Dad said he used as the 'landmark' that told him they had almost arrived. The road into the Village used to run along the Bridal Veil Wall of the Valley and not as it does today through what used to be Lower Village.

I am not going to tell you everything I will tell you on the Tour because then what would be the point of having it? This is just to let you know when, where, and what so no one gets misplaced.

Old Village holds a lot of fascination for folks partly because it isn't there anymore. But also parts of Yosemite's history lived themselves out there and never moved on to the site of the New Village. George Fiske, a well loved and respected Yosemite photographer, died in Old Village. Others who never knew the New Village included John Muir and Galen Clark, both champions of the whole of Yosemite whose names have rightfully gone down in history for their staunch work on behalf of what is truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

What we will be doing is taking a nice slow walk along the old road, up through the Village, and along the one street, that for most of the time Old Village existed was packed dirt. Then we will end up back at the Chapel and there will be some things to look at. If you would like to bring your lunch some of us will be eating together there afterwards. Questions are welcomed, and I very much hope that others with knowledge about Old Village will get in touch with me in advance so that their knowledge can be added to what I know. It is always more interesting that way. My phone number and e-mail address are at the bottom of the page.

I am not old enough to remember Old Village myself. Quite. But my Dad told me about growing up there and the stories fascinated me as a child and teenager. I am sure we will all have a good time. Thanks to the Yosemite Chapel, Brent and Faith, for the idea and for sponsoring the event. Look forward to seeing you there!

Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

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Image: AC Newsletter:

The Real Yosemite. A Book with more stories than have been told.

When I first picked up the book it was with a sense of duty. I had set myself the task of creating a time line to subsume all of the events that related to the life and career of my grandfather, A. C. Pillsbury and this was another one of the many projects that had filled his life. It was a book that was assembled at home, including a few photos and some text and dusty little illustrations. I opened the book up and pressed it down on the flatbed scanner. I am a person who focuses on the words. Those I had read. The Legend of the Lost Arrow was very familiar to me; I had hear it from my father as a small girl in several versions. This one was different, more like the original I had read in a book by Galen Clark only a few years ago.

The image resolved on the screen of my computer. It was a donkey. I smiled. The stories about Winkey were legion. I marked the jpeg for remastering and scanned again.

As I worked my way through the book, not really thinking about what I was seeing, I thought about the stories Father had told me about his boyhood in Yosemite. The evenings had been filled with camaraderie. When he was little the legends and stories of Yosemite had filled their minds and morphed into stories that, as an adult, I had recognized were a weaving of the original Miwok folk traditions and drawn from classical mythology and added to family stories and even events then in motion.

Father's eyes had twinkled when he told me some of the stories. Those were usually the best.

I had finished marking every image and begun to stand up when suddenly my mind caught on a smudged mark. I sat down again.

I had to look for it. Then I had to blow it up to several times the original size.

There it was. The familiar logo for the Studio of the Three Arrows on the tiny photographic plate the cameraman that, now that I looked at him, was clearly AC.

He was photographing four figures on horseback. In 1909 mounting up and riding out was de rigeur for a vacation in Yosemite. Two of the figures were women and the other man is obscured. But one was clearly a man, and not just any man; a ranger. His face was clearly drawn from life. I put that one in a special folder and proceeded through the other illustrations.

In the end I was able to identify several of the figures as people who were well known in Yosemite at the time. I am not going to put names on them here. I am going to let you do that. So here is one for now. Happy guessing!


The winter edition of the newsletter will have the article on The Real Yosemite, the book published by AC on 1909 featuring illustrations with a witty edge to them.

Kathy Stewart, who so generously donated the album she inherited from her Great-Aunt Florance is assembling information on Florance. Florance was a teacher who lived and worked in Alhambra, California. Her story promises to be intriguing.

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