Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass
by Nelson B. Wadsworth
GEORGE EDWARD ANDERSON
“This Sacred Spot”
[p.173] Among the many apprentices working in the C. R. Savage Art Bazar in the mid-1870s were three young men who would leave their mark in photography and landscape painting. One was a handsome, lanky, curly-headed young man named George Edward Anderson, who started as Savage’s assistant and stock boy. Another was John Hafen, who would die in 1910 before his graceful landscape paintings would achieve attention. The third, John F. Bennett, would leave photography to found Bennett Glass and Paint Company. Of the three, Anderson would achieve the most posthumous acclaim as one of the best artistic photographers in western America, but he would live in poverty and go to his grave a pauper. Hafen would eventually study in Paris, but he too would spend most of his life in poverty and die at the relatively young age of fifty-four. Although Bennett would become a banking magnate and civic leader, he would also work to preserve the state’s photographic heritage.
As teenagers the three worked together in Savage’s gallery on Main Street, helping the older photographer make his albumen prints in the darkroom, doing janitorial chores, finishing pictures, and serving as stock boys in the stationery store. Hafen was the oldest, probably around eighteen or nineteen when he [p.175] worked for Savage. Anderson was about fourteen when he began his photographic career. Bennett was five years younger than Anderson and probably did not work with the other two apprentices until shortly before they quit Savage and went on their own.1
Although Anderson learned photography from Utah’s pioneer master of pictoral photography, people interested Anderson, not the inanimate objects and broad, natural vistas backgrounded in most views taken by his mentor. Savage’s style had been fixed in the wet-plate era of photography when it was difficult to “animate” scenes with human figures because of the long exposures lasting fifteen to thirty seconds. Human beings had to “freeze” in order to be recorded on the sensitized plate. Figures in motion appeared as ghosts or did not appear at all in the finished negative.
In contrast dry-plate photographers such as Anderson had much more creative latitude because their plates were faster, most exposures requiring less than a second. A one-second exposure could not freeze action, but it was fast enough for most people to hold still. The advent of fast, dry-plate emulsions eventually led to the invention of roller-blind and focal plane shutters, which finally enabled photographers after 1890 to freeze motion in their pictures.
An amateur photographer in England, R. L. Maddox, started this revolution in photography in 1871 when he published an article in The British Journal of Photography describing the use of gelatin as a vehicle to hold silver nitrate crystals in suspension on a glass surface. Such experiments led to packaged dry plates with faster emulsions. These eliminated the necessity of collodion coating, sensitizing, and immediate developing while in the field. Photographers could shoot their dry plates and then take them back to a central darkroom for developing. Even more important, the short exposures enabled photographers to capture some semblance of action, and blurred ghosts became less common in their photographs.
An enterprising young bank clerk named George Eastman started manufac-[p.177]turing dry plates in Rochester, New York, in 1880, and by 1888 the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company was manufacturing a flexible film and the first model of the roll film Kodak camera. “Anybody who can wind a watch can use the Kodak Camera,” advertised Eastman. “It is a magazine camera, and will make one hundred pictures without reloading. The operation of taking the picture is simply to point the camera and press a button. The picture is taken instantaneously on a strip of sensitive film, which is moved into position by turning a key.”2 Eastman named the camera after the unusual “ko-dak” sound the string-cock, cylindrical shutter made when the button was depressed. It was a name destined to become a familiar cliché in America.
The Kodak camera and its successors made picture taking more readily [p.178] available and revolutionized both the art and the science of photography. But it did not eliminate the need for professional, artistic photographers, since even the Kodak could not make fine, technically-excellent photographs unless a photographer applying both art and science was behind the lens.
Anderson began his career in the wet-plate era, but he adapted to the new dry plate technology within a few years, and the bulk of his surviving work is on dry plates. Anderson was born in a modest home on Salt Lake City’s Third Avenue on 20 October 1860 a little less than two months after Savage arrived by wagon train from the east. Anderson’s father, also named George, was a Scottish convert to the Mormon church. His mother, Mary Ann Thorn, was from England. The elder Andersons came to Utah by wagon train in 1855, and they settled in Salt Lake City, where George got a job as herdsman for the city. Young George Edward, who was to go throughout life as “Ed” or “Eddie,” was the oldest of nine children.3
George Edward began working in Savage’s studio some time around 1874. He probably began as an errand boy who swept out the studio and handled other menial tasks around the gallery. But he learned quickly, and when he showed an interest in photography Savage took him on as an apprentice. Savage may have later regretted this instruction, because only three years later at age seventeen, Anderson struck out on his own and joined Savage’s competition. He opened a gallery on Main Street upstairs above Daynes Music Store. He taught his two brothers, Jeddiah Stanley and Adam Saig, the technical aspects of photography and hired them in his gallery.
With the help of his brothers, Anderson operated an ambrotype/tintype portrait gallery and made albumen prints using the wet-plate process. It must have been a crude gallery, however, because early descriptions of their technique indicated they carried their trays to nearby City Creek to wash their negatives and prints in the flowing water. At that time the stream flowed in an open bed through the city. Anderson’s brother J. Stanley described their process: “That was in the days before taps were used to rinse plates. I tell my boys that all they [p.181] do nowadays to take a picture is to press a button. In the early days we spent hours in a dark room with a wet plate in a big tray before we put the chemicals on.”4 Despite such difficulties, however, Anderson won first prize for tintypes at the territorial fair in Salt Lake City in 1879.5
By the early 1880s Anderson was making a series of bold professional moves. In 1881 he purchased nine acres of land in Springville, Utah. With the land came a picturesque home which painter John Hafen nicknamed “the artist’s retreat.” In the early 1880s Anderson established galleries in Springville and also in Manti. He also developed two different kinds of portable galleries which he continued to operate until about 1906. Sometime in the mid-1880s he also established satellite galleries in both Spanish Fork and Nephi.6 It is unclear when he closed the gallery in Salt Lake City. He was not listed among those with photographic galleries in the 1885 Salt Lake City Directory.7 His advertisement in Sloan’s Gazetteer and Directory for Utah the year before may help explain this omission. [p.182] Anderson’s advertisement, the only one for a photographer, claimed “the finest portable galleries in the country.” He boasted, “With my improved facilities and varied experience, I am now prepared to do the finest work known to the science.”8 Certainly this ad documents Anderson’s desire not to be confined by the limitations of a studio.
Anderson took his brothers with him into his new ventures. He also hired other photographic technicians away from competing Salt Lake galleries. In October 1887, for example, Hyrum Sainsbury, who had worked in Savage’s gallery for several years, quit to work with Anderson. Savage recorded the exodus in his diary: “October 30, 1887—Hyrum Sainsbury leaves me tonight after a faithful effort on his part for several years—He goes off with Ed Anderson. [p.183] Thus it goes—as soon as anyone gets really useful, off they go. Verily, we never know when our trouble begins.” Sainsbury did not remain with Anderson long. He soon went into business with another partner, Charles Ellis Johnson.
A surviving photograph from the 1880s shows Anderson operating his initial tent galleries. He is a young man in his early twenties, sporting a bush moustache and wearing a battered hat, bandanna, and vest.9 Anderson seemed to have maintained two different types of portable galleries throughout his career. The more substantial gallery was large, had a wooden frame, and was difficult to transport, set up, and tear down. But this tent could be set up for weeks, even months, at a time. The smaller gallery was merely a canvas tent with a cheesecloth “scrim” in the ceiling, which when positioned toward the north sky admitted soft, diffused light into the picture-taking area. This latter gallery [p.185] could be set up and torn down like an ordinary tent. Both tent galleries were susceptible to the weather, and when storms darkened the sky, they cut down the light through the scrims, producing flat negatives lacking details in the shadow.
With these portable galleries, the young photographer offered a wide variety of photographic services to thinly-populated, rural Utah. Anderson made some money, but he could never get out of debt for very long. Between 1884 and 1906 Anderson’s horse-drawn wagon and portable galleries were familiar sights in a wide area extending from Utah County in the north through Wayne, Piute, Emery, Carbon, Beaver, and Iron counties in the south. His diaries are filled with the names of the little towns he regularly visited: Castle Dale, Price, Panguitch, Richfield, Marysvale, Central, Joseph, Sigurd, Gunnison, Payson, Scofield, Annabella, Monroe, Salina, Glenwood, Circleville, Green River. In each town he provided a service not generally available to rural populations, whose trips to Provo or Salt Lake City were rare. Tens of thousands of his negatives somehow survived and attest to his untiring energy.10
During his wagon excursions through central Utah, Anderson broke out of the staged settings characteristic of gallery photography. He would arrange a subject in front of a home, on a horse, in front of a barn, in a field or some other natural setting appropriate to the customer. He also photographed groups: children on the steps in front of their schools, Mormon families, reunions, veterans’ organizations. Anderson was a master at getting people to look at ease in his photographs. His photographs were carefully posed, but many produce a sense of the photographer having happened on the scene.
Anderson by no means confided himself to portraiture, although this was the main source of his income. His thoughts as he plodded along the dusty Utah wagon trails in his “Commodore buggy” were usually on the surrounding landscape. “He saw the beauty in everything he passed,” remembered the photographer’s oldest daughter Eva, who as a child often accompanied her father on picture taking excursions. “He would stop and photograph an old [p.186] barn, an orchard, an old dead tree, or maybe just some cows or sheep grazing in a field.”11
A glowing article published years later credited Anderson with being “the first photographer in Utah to use dry plates for portrait purposes.”12 Certainly Anderson’s expansion in the early 1880s coincided with a move to newer technologies in his new facilities. By the time he opened his Springville and Manti galleries and established his tent galleries, he had completely adapted to the dry plate method.
In Springville Anderson and John Hafen, who had admired each other’s work during their apprenticeship with Savage, became closer friends. Hafen made hand-painted canvas backdrops used to add atmosphere and depth to the portraits taken in the various Anderson studios. Undoubtedly they encouraged each other’s creative ambitions. For Anderson it was the most formative period of his career as he struggled to make photography an art as well as a science. [p.187] With Hafen to critique his pictorial views, Anderson was transformed into an artist himself who used cameras and light instead of brushes and oils.
In the waning years of Anderson’s career, a fellow photographer remembered the commitment Anderson had to photography as art and documentary. “He didn’t care about making money,” said O. Blaine Larson. “All he wanted to do was document history.” Larson remembered Anderson in his final years borrowing unexposed dry plates from fellow photographers. Even though his portrait business had fallen off and he did not have money to buy supplies, his obsession with photography continued. “Money really didn’t mean anything to him,” Larson recalled. “He was terrible at collecting bills.”13
A few years after purchasing his artist’s retreat in Springville, Anderson began spending most of his time in his gallery in Manti. The LDS church was [p.189] building a temple there out of oolitic sandstone. Anderson was fascinated by the construction of the building and frequently photographed its progress. He also photographed the workers and the people in the surrounding community. Eventually he established a more permanent gallery in Manti, which he called “The Temple Bazar.”14
Some time around 1886, as Anderson looked beneath his black cloth at the ground-glass image of a customer projected through his view camera, he saw an attractive young woman in a high-necked, tight-waisted, long-skirted dress. Although the image was upside down, Anderson decided the woman was among the loveliest he had ever seen and began courting Oliver Lowry, a coed then home from the University of Utah. When the Manti temple opened for marriages on 30 October 1888, nine days after its dedication, George Edward and Olive were the second couple married in the new temple.15
[p.192] Anderson took his bride to the artist’s retreat in Springville and lived there for several years before moving into a house adjoining the photographer’s adobe gallery in downtown Springville. The next five years the Anderson and their two daughters, Eva born in 1889 and Edda in 1892, lived a typical rural existence. Ed planted fruit trees and vegetable garden in the yard of his gallery. Olive helped retouch negatives, keep record books, and frame albumen prints and enlargements. They assumed active roles in the local Mormon ward. “Dislike to work on the Sabbath,” he wrote in his diary in 1895, “but it seems we allow circumstances to compel us to do so at times.”16
But these were lean years for the Andersons. By the beginning of 1894 they were $3,000 in debt. The debt may have come from building the more permanent gallery in Springville in 1895 or purchasing new equipment for dry-plate photography.17 “That debt seemed almost like all the money in the world to me,” [p.193] Anderson’s daughter wrote years later, “and mama and papa were so anxious to pay it off, for the church authorities had said, ‘keep out of debt.’ Maybe that was the reason they could only afford a branch for a tree that Christmas. But there was so much love and Christmas spirit on that little tree that I believe it was a symbol of my brightest Christmas.”18 With business so borderline, Anderson began to again travel through rural communities. If customers would not come to him, he would take his gallery to them. Still it took five years to write off the debt.
Hafen continued as Anderson’s partner in the portable Springville gallery until 1890. Then the LDS church sent him on a mission to Paris with several other Mormon artists to study art in order to paint murals in the Salt Lake temple, by then nearing completion. At the Academie Julian, Hafen was impressed by the French impressionists and began working in oils. He returned to Utah two years later and painted murals in the temple.19
Meanwhile Anderson took a new partner, Springville businessman Lucian D. Crandall, and together they completed the new gallery at 300 South Main Street in Springville.20 As the summer of 1892 drew to a close, the two entrepreneurs looked forward to a prosperous business. They planned to travel to Salt Lake City that October so they could secure views of a momentous event—the laying of the capstone on the great Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. Anderson was also present at the dedication of the temple a year later, but hurricane force winds which struck that day splintered the wooden frame and tore the canvas of his tent studio. He put off repairing the tent for more than two years.
As the year 1895 began Anderson was still on the road, still trying to pay off his debt. Handbills had been distributed around the little farming community of Elsinore: “Hurrah! Anderson’s Portable Photograph Gallery is in town, U-bet!” Those who wanted their pictures taken could come to the tent pitched on the outskirts of town. No prior appointment necessary. It was hard work moving from town to town, pitching and tearing down the portable gallery, posing portraits in front of the plain or painted backdrops, developing glass [p.194] negatives, passing out flyers, numbering and proofing pictures, printing, toning, framing, delivering, and finally collecting the bills. Only a few showed up for their portraits that day in Elsinore, so the next morning Anderson loaded his camera equipment in the wagon, hitched up “Nubbins,” and drove eight miles to Richfield, where the process began again. Despite financial difficulties, Anderson loved his work. And often business was brisk.
On 18 February 1900, just about the time Anderson’s business was becoming solvent, he was made bishop of the Springville 2nd Ward. Being bishop was time-consuming. He apparently cut down on his tours through the rural communities, leaving that end of the business to his brother, J. Stanley.
Anderson did take a trip to Scofield to document one of the worst disasters in the history of mining. On 1 May 1900 in Mine No. 4 at a place called Winter Quarters, Carbon County, an explosion ripped through the shaft and killed two hundred coal miners. On 2 May Anderson wrote in his diary, “At the gallery, then to the depot and concluded to go to Scofield and make views and see if could get view of the—.”21 Anderson never completed the sentence but left several blank pages in his diary which he never finished. Three days later he wrote about making views of the services, cemetery, and graves. He also recorded serving on the committee to raise money for the miners’ widows and sending pictures of the mine disaster to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.
The 12 May issue of the News carried a story headlined: “Winter Quarters after the explosion…vivid scenes photographed for the News by G. E. Anderson, Springville, Utah.” Unfortunately only five poorly edited and reproduced pictures were included. More of these photos were reproduced in James W. Dilley’s book on the disaster published later that year, but Dilley still omitted some of Anderson’s best photos and incorrectly credited others to Bedlington E. Lewis.22
Although Anderson did not write about his Scofield experiences in his diary, his trip to the disaster scene is vividly told in his pictures: the crumpled wreckage at the mine portals, canvas-wrapped bodies being carried from the mines, superintendents tallying the dead, caskets stacked at the Wasatch Store, black-[p.195]faced survivors standing at the entrances, charred bodies stretched out on the school house floor, pine boxes lined under the American flag in the meeting house, and grieving families standing over open graves in the Scofield cemetery. Anderson’s portrayal of the Scofield disaster was a turning point in his career. It displayed his skills in documentary photography and set the stage for an obsession which would eventually alienate his wife and family.
Like Savage, Anderson was an avid railroad traveler. He never had private cars at his disposal as did his mentor, but he made many pictures of the railroad, particularly on the RGW line through Thistle, Soldier Summit, Colton, Price, and Green River.
In 1902 Olive gave birth to a son, G. Lowry. These should have been happy [p.199] days, for as Anderson reported in his diary, “things are going fairly well.” But after four years, his work as bishop was proving frustrating. He had disagreed with his counselors over management of the ward’s meetings and appealed to local stake authorities to have them released and replaced. Instead he was censured and instructed “to try it again and let the past be buried.”23 “I felt terrible,” he wrote in his diary, “down cast in my spirits and cannot get it off my mind. I know I have tried to do my duty and hope some day my brethren will better understand me.”24 Several months later he resigned, and a new bishop was called in his place.
Also in 1903 two of his gallery assistants, Elfie Huntington and Joe Bagley, [p.200] quit and announced plans to set up their own gallery across the street. Elfie had been one of Anderson’s most trusted and reliable employees for ten years. She had been apprenticed to Anderson in 1892. Huntington lost her hearing due to scarlet fever when she was four years old. Her mother died when she was six, and two years later her father, William, remarried and moved to California. Huntington lived with her grandmother until she died while Elfie was still a teen. At that point she went to live with the Don C. Johnson family of Springville.25 It was in the Johnson home that Huntington was taught to lip read and encouraged to express herself through her drawing. Eventually in 1892 when Huntington was in her early twenties, Johnson in an effort to encourage her artistic ability arranged for her to apprentice with Anderson.
Photography seemed a promising area in the late nineteenth century, since there were no formal regulations or academic curricula guarding entrance to the profession. Novices were apprenticed. Huntington began by retouching negatives and hand coloring photographs. She gradually learned darkroom techniques and camera operation. Anderson came to rely on her to manage his studio during his absences.26 Her accomplishments were impressive. For example, an article dated 1896 in the Utah Eagle related: “On December 31 we received a call from Mr. D. C. Johnson and Miss Elfie Huntington. Miss Huntington has been deaf since she was three years old, but has never attended a school for the deaf. She attended public schools with hearing children and is said to be well educated. Her power of lip reading is quite wonderful. She is said to be a photographer and retoucher of great skill, also an expert type-setter. Besides the above accomplishments she is a thorough dressmaker. There is certainly food for thought in a case like this.”27
While working for Anderson, Huntington purchased a small view camera of her own and began her personal work, photographing the intimate lives of her friends and family and also the common street life of Springville. She kept these personal pictures in albums. She left no diary, just the small, spontaneous visual expressions of her life. But these surviving albums make it possible to trace [p.202] her intimate vies of back porch antics, women dressing themselves, and other haunting images.
It was at Anderson studio that Huntington met Joseph Daniel Bagley. Bagley came to work for Anderson in 1900 at $12 per month, “after that $25 per month for one more year. Then $40.00 if business will permit of it.”28 Bagley was born in Toquerville, Utah, on 17 December 1874 to Thomas and Milessa Bagley Flannigan. He was adopted as a small child by his maternal grandparents and took their name.29
In addition to photography, Bagley was associated with one of the largest apiaries in the region, the Western Bee and Honey Company. An alarming image has survived of Elfie Huntington facing the camera with swollen eyes. The photograph stands as a sign of their unflinching honesty in recording events affecting their lives.
When Huntington and Bagley decided to open their own studio across the street from Anderson, Anderson wrote, “Jos. Bagley told me he expected to [p.203] quit in a month. I told him I thought [he] had better quit at once….Did not rest well thinking of the way Elfie and Jos. Treated me.”30 The Springville Independent announced on 7 May 1903: “Elfie Huntington and Joseph Bagley, both well known in the city, opened on Monday a cozy photography gallery, where they are now prepared to serve courteously and artistically any one who may want first-class pictures. Their apparatus is all new and up-to-date and the firm is capable of turning out good work.”31 A November 1903 advertisement read: “Huntington and Bagley. Portrait and landscape photographers. Pictures taken in all the latest styles. Pictures copied and enlarged. Picture frames, photo jewelry, mailing envelopes, Kodak supplies carried in stock. If you wish a picture of your home, barn, animals or anything else, let us know and we will please you.”32
The Huntington and Bagley Studio also advertised: “We go anywhere, anytime, to photograph anything.”33 In fulfillment of this pledge, the two [p.204] photographers began traveling all over Utah County, usually on a motorcycle. One story has it that Huntington was at the wheel one day and hit a bump in the road, and because she could not hear Bagley yelling for her, she did not discover until she returned to Springville that Bagley had fallen off the back of the motorcycle somewhere along the road.34 Despite such misadventures the Huntington and Bagley Studio was successful, largely because Huntington, the lady photographer with the raspy voice, and Joseph Bagley, the easy-going beekeeper, were well liked in the community.
Huntington and Bagley remained partners in business until Bagley’s death at age sixty-two from a heart attack in 1936. Six weeks before his death, Bagley and Huntington had married. Some consider that the marriage was an expediency to provide a mother for Bagley’s three children. Bagley’s first wife Emma had died in 1926. Yet Huntington did not fulfill this role for them. She moved [p.205] out of the Bagley home and returned to her apartment adjacent to their studio soon after his death. She gave up their business within three years35 but lived until she was eighty years old. She died in 1949 at the county infirmary after a lingering illness. Her obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune commented ironically: “she operated the Huntington-Bagley Studios here, although she was unable to hear or see.”36
The Huntington and Bagley legacy remains significant because of their willingness to confront, starkly at times, the pains and complexities of life. In one portrait a man’s artificial legs lie on the floor beside him. In another a human skull is poised atop a “Gone to Dinner” sign. In others they confronted such sensitive issues as the pervasive use of alcohol in a Mormon-dominated culture, the down side of motherhood, gambling, and loneliness through portraits of dogs.
During the 1880s and 1890s Anderson worked off and on with his younger brothers J. Stanley and Adam. “Uncle Ed would send dad out on these trips [p.206] around Utah,” recalled J. Stanley’s son, A. W. “Jack” Anderson. “Eventually he wanted to be on his own, so he brought a tent to Rexburg [Idaho] in 1904, where he went into business.”37 Jack eventually purchased a building from another photographer in Rexburg. He remodeled the building, installed the necessary equipment, and founded a business that would continue for close to eight years. He personally operated the Rexburg studio until about 1917, after which he established a branch gallery in nearby Rigby, moved his family there, and continued to maintain both businesses. Later his son Stanley L., who had studied photography at Ricks Academy and the American School of Art, took over the Rexburg business, after which Jack moved to Preston, Idaho, and established a similar business there.
George Edward’s brother Adam, who had also gotten his start with C. R. Savage, moved to Provo sometime around 1890 and opened a gallery there which he operated for about twenty years. When he opened the gallery Adam [p.209] was about twenty. Ten years later he took on a twenty-year-old apprentice, Thomas Christian Larson, who eventually bought Adam’s business in 1910. His son, O. Blaine Larson, inherited the business and kept it his entire life.
Adam had worked in Springville with Elfie Huntington and Joseph Bagley. Reportedly he helped loan them the money to start their own business and even named his daughter after Elfie. Adam was relatively young, in his forties, when he sold his business. He later sold automobiles and took tickets at the old opera house in Provo. His daughter Elfie recalled her father: “He felt too confined in the darkroom and wanted to get out into the fresh air. He loved fishing and the mountains and often took his children on camping trips. Sometimes we took a tent and camped at Hobble Creek. Then my dad built a cabin at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon.”
After losing his trusted associates Huntington and Bagley, and parting with his brothers, George Edward Anderson borrowed money from his old friend, John F. Bennett, and built a new, two-story gallery in Springville, described by the local newspaper as “the largest and most complete establishment of this nature in the state of Utah.” A special edition of the paper in 1906 described the new gallery: “The first floor is devoted to the display of works of art; frames and mouldings; education, historical and religious books of a high standard of merit; bibles, maps, charts and Sunday school literature; photographic goods of all kinds; Kodaks and Kodak supplies, glass, etc. The entire second floor is occupied by the studio, with its reception room and other modern conveniences, and the basement is fitted for developing, toning and storage purposes.”38 However, the new gallery was not the financial success Anderson anticipated.
The dream of his new gallery was accompanied by another dream. In his new gallery Anderson set aside a section for books on church history and for his documentary photographs. Like C. W. Carter before him, Anderson dreamed of telling the story of Mormonism in photographs. He imagined visiting New York, Pennsylvania, New England, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois and [p.211] there photographing the spots where Mormonism was born.
An opportunity to fulfill this dream came in an unlikely guise, a call from the church to go on a mission to England. But before he could leave for England, he would have to devise some way to support his family during his absence. Finally he leased his new gallery to another photographer, W. J. Prater, a recent graduate of the Illinois College of Photography. Prater was to pay Anderson’s wife, Olive, a monthly rent and thereby keep her and the children in groceries. Anderson would support himself on the journey with his camera.
On 20 April 1907 Anderson climbed aboard the train at Springville. Three days later he was taking pictures of the temple site in Mormonism’s “center stake” in Independence, Missouri. “This is a beautiful place, quiet and pleasant, agreeable to the eye,” Anderson wrote in his journal. “I feel it a privilege to be in this land which the prophet of the Lord designated as the centre stake of Zion [p.212] and where the great Temple of Our God should be raised.” The negatives, Anderson reported, “came out good considering the dull day.”
“I feel so impressed with the necessity of making the views,” Anderson wrote in his diary. “I can see what a blessing they would be to our people in arousing interest in this land, and the work that is before us as a people in building up the centre stake of Zion….I have felt all day that I should have more time to get views of the important points in Church History so at the suggestion of Elder Richins and Evans, telegraphed W. C. Spence: ‘Have fine views, need more time, can steamer ticket be extended? Wire G. Ed Anderson.” It would be nearly year before he sailed for England.
On 26 April Anderson climbed to the roof of a two-storey bank building and to the top of the west tower of the RLDS rock church and there made panoramic [p.213] views of the Temple Lot and Independence. “Very difficult climb we had in the Church tower,” he wrote in his diary. Three days later he traveled to Kansas City with another missionary and visited several photographic supply houses, purchasing Azo contact printing paper. In his diary he wrote, “Fixed trays and developed about 65 prints on Azo. Printed by gaslight.”
Anderson left for Nauvoo, Illinois, on 1 May. He arrived the following day and immediately began photographing the historic Mormon city. “Visited the most interesting point, old homes of the Saints, the prophet’s home, Temple ground,” he wrote that evening. “In the afternoon made views of the most prominent places….Made a view of the grave of Emma Smith Bidamon, also Jos. Smith Jr. wife and children, Nauvoo Mansion, Nauvoo House, and many things that brought to ruin the condition of our Temple 60 years ago.” The following day Anderson traveled to Carthage and wrote in his diary: “Visited the jail where the prophet and patriarch were killed.…Saw the hole in the door made by the bullet, the window from which the prophet jumped. The well has been filled in, and is marked by some flowers put out in a circle. Make a neg of the old jail in a snow storm.”
During May, Anderson traveled through Missouri, photographing monuments and graves as well as such sites as Crooked River where the battle between Mormons and their neighbors took place in 1838. On 23 May Anderson wrote in his diary: “At Haun’s Mill. Crossed the creek and located left of the old mill, stones which we worked out of the ground and down to the edge of the creek. Made two or three negatives of it, putting an inscription on one side.” On the stone Anderson painted: “In memory of the victims of Haun’s Mill Massacre, Oct. 30th, 1838.”
Anderson finally left the Nauvoo area on 3 June 1907 and spent the next two months in Chicago, making his headquarters the Mormon mission home. While there he discussed with Apostle George Albert Smith his plans to go to Palmyra and Kirtland to photograph church history sites. “I told Apostle Smith,” he wrote, “that I had thought of writing President Penrose of the English Mission [p.215] and tell him why I was so long in coming, what I was doing etc. He said to do that.”
On 3 August Anderson left Chicago by train for Kirtland, Ohio, by way of Cleveland. On 7 August he recorded in his diary: “Made views of cemetery and temple from cupola of barn of McFarlands.” He returned to Cleveland and on 11 August left for Buffalo, New York, aboard the steamboat City of Erie. The following day he was in Palmyra. On 13 August he walked to the old Smith homestead. Unfortunately, the volume of his diary which details his excursions in Palmyra and Vermont has been lost.
Anderson stayed in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont until March 1908. His delay in reaching England was becoming a source of embarrassment to the family back home, and within a few months they would face a difficult financial situation. The photographer who leased the gallery could not compete [p.216] with the nearby Huntington and Bagley studio. Without rent Olive Anderson had to support the family. She found a supervisory position at the Springville Canning Company, closed the photographic gallery, and leased the building to a furniture store. She also sold the “artist’s retreat.”39
Anderson finally sailed for England in the spring of 1908. His daughter Eva Noyes later explained, “Dad didn’t go right out and take pictures like most photographers. He would visit the spot he wanted to photograph and walk through it and around it for hours, deciding the exact time for the best lighting to make his negatives.” To photograph the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, for instance, Anderson retraced Joseph Smith’s footsteps through the open land leading to the green forest. Anderson set his big view camera up on a hill overlooking the Palmyra countryside and made an exposure of the grove far off in the distance. In the foreground three small boys sat in the grass, looking down on a field of newly-mown hay. Then Anderson moved down from the hill and [p.217] made a beautifully composed picture of the boys against the trees. One of the youngsters is climbing the fence as the others fish in a small stream.
Anderson went to the grove many mornings in succession. One day a child tagged along. “I wanted to show you the tree where they said Joseph prayed,” the child told Anderson. “I thought you would like to make a picture of it.”40
Anderson was stunned. “I certainly should,” he replied. “Do you know where the tree is?”
“Yes,” said the child. “I have it marked. I can take you right to it.”
Together they entered the grove, and the little boy continued his story. When a group of Mormons went to Vermont in 1905 to dedicate the Joseph Smith Memorial, they stopped in the grove on their way home. The little boy [p.218] said he followed them into the grove, and they gathered around a certain tree. “They sang a song about Joseph Smith’s first prayer,” he said. “Then a man with a long beard prayed.”
Anderson knew that the old man was President Joseph F. Smith, then president of the Mormon church and Joseph Smith’s nephew. The boy had marked the spot with a rusty stove grate. He took Anderson by the hand and led him there. As they made their way over a small rise, sunbeams illuminated the forest floor. “He told us later when he saw the sun shining through the trees into a small clearing, he knew this was the right place,” a neighbor who heard Anderson tell the story recalled. “And this was where he made his pictures.” The silhouettes of the backlighted trees with the boy standing in the clearing below created one of the most striking and dramatic images of Anderson’s career.
[p.219] Anderson’s mission in England was typical for the early 1900s. Among those he converted were Mr. and Mrs. John J. Collett of London, who soon became the photographer’s close friends. But in 1910, shortly before Anderson was to return home, Mr. Collett died, leaving his wife, Louisa Helena, and six children, aged six months to ten years. The oldest child, John T. Collett, had been crippled by polio at the age of nine months. Anderson asked permission from the mission to adopt the boy and take him back to the states. In fact Anderson devised a plan to bring the whole Collett family to America. He extended his mission so he could accumulate the necessary funds to take the boy with him. By traveling via the lowest class of fare, he planned to get two people home for the price of one.
In August 1911 Anderson and ten-year-old Collett arrived in New York City as passengers in steerage on the steamship Campania. Things went smoothly until they got to U.S. Customs. When the boy gave his name as “John Collett” [p.220] instead of “John Anderson,” he was immediately sent to Ellis Island for deportation back to England. Benjamin E. Rich, then president of the Eastern States Mission, interceded for Anderson and the boy with U.S. president Taft, and the boy was soon on his way to Utah to live with Anderson’s family. Anderson himself remained in the east, apparently to finish his photographs of church history. Collett was not warmly welcomed by Anderson’s family and soon retraced his steps to New England. There he rejoined Anderson, who had set up a gallery in South Royalton, Vermont. “I think he [Anderson] was having some kind of marital problems with his wife,” Collett later recalled. “He was gone so long, I don’t think Olive cared whether he ever came home, and to George Ed, everything was secondary to his work, including his family. All he wanted to do was take pictures of church history.”41
For three years after finishing his mission, Anderson and Collett lived in the [p.221] studio and traveled to historic Mormon sites. “We usually traveled in the daytime on foot,” Collett recalled. “It was really work lugging those big 8 by 10 view cameras and dry plates around on those back country roads.” Collett said Anderson was obsessed with his project. “He was a man greatly misunderstood,” he added. “His desire was to do good, but he had a funny way of going about it. Mostly he was quiet and unassuming, but he had a bad temper. There wasn’t really any hate in him but not much outward love either. I respected the man, but I really didn’t love him. He was a taskmaster. If I failed to do what he told me, a severe beating usually followed.”42
Anderson’s obsession meant he neglected the money-making end of the business. “We never had any money,” Collett said. “On the road we went without purse or scrip. George Ed paid his way by offering to take pictures wherever we [p.222] went. Money to him was a necessary evil.” Instead Anderson spent hours doing historical research. Collett recalled spending days searching for an old doctor they finally photographed in Manchaster. “He remembered seeing Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery carrying a package which he supposed was the golden plates of the Book of Mormon.” They also searched out and photographed an old woman near Palmyra who said she had met and talked with Joseph Smith as he made his way up the slopes of Hill Cumorah.
Anderson and Collett returned to the Sacred Grove, visiting the spot where Anderson believed Joseph Smith had his vision. “He showed me the old stove grate leaning against the tree which marked the place,” Collett recalled. “Then he set up his camera and took my picture.”
Sometime in 1914 Anderson decided his work on church history was complete and at last decided to return home to Utah. The photographer had [p.223] been absent from his Springville gallery for more than seven years, only three of which were spent in England.43 His trip home had been so long delayed rumors had begun circulating about another woman. These rumors only increased when Louisa Helena Collett and the rest of her family arrived from England in 1915 with Anderson’s help. “But the rumor mongers were wrong,” said John Collett. “There was absolutely nothing between my mother and George Ed except the missionary-convert relationship they had in England.”
Shortly after her arrival, Mrs. Collett sought to undo her son’s adoption. Checking with the Provo attorney handling the case, she discovered the papers had not yet been filed in court. She repossessed the boy, who was fourteen or fifteen at the time.
The Andersons remained married. But for long period of time the photographer lived alone in his gallery, he and his wife rarely speaking to each other. [p.224] Anderson’s preoccupation with documentary photography at the expense of his money-making studio continued. He also spent a good deal of his time trying to sell a book he had printed, Birth of Mormonism, which included the views he had taken during his years away from home. The book had been published by the Deseret Sunday School Union, even before Anderson returned home and had included narrative and notes from Professor John Henry Evans, accompanying Anderson’s photographs. “The Birth of Mormonism in Pictures was undertaken from two motives,” Evans said in the introduction. “First a desire to preserve in attractive form photographs of places that will always be revered by Latter-day Saints; and second, a wish to tell in a new way the wonderful story of that birth.”44
On 26 May 1916 Anderson was on hand to document the completion of the Salt Lake and Utah Electric Interurban line between Salt Lake City and Payson, celebrated with the driving of “a little golden spike” in Payson.45 And between 1915 and 1923 he was frequently in Cardston, Alberta, documenting the construction of the Mormon temple and visiting his daughter Edda, who had married and settled there. He would remain for long periods in Canada and even opened a gallery there. His relationship with his wife remained poor. His gallery business was at best borderline, and he would spend the final decade of his life on the edge of poverty. He resorted to begging for supplies from other photographers, hitching rides wherever he went, and living as if he were homeless.
But despite his estrangement from his wife and children, his poverty, his growing eccentricity, and his advancing age, he continued to photograph historic scenes, including the Mormon Trail in 1926. Though weak and suffering from a heart condition, in 1928 he hitched a ride with church officials to photograph the dedication of the Arizona temple. His wife, who had softened toward him in their old age, begged him not to go. But of course he did. The [p.225] dedication of the new temple in Mesa, Arizona, would be the last scene of church history his cameras would record.
While there Anderson became ill and returned home prematurely. He was suffering from a disease then called “dropsy’ or excessive fluid on the heart. His daughter, Edda Brandley, who was visiting from Canada, recalled her father returning home: “I can still see him as Lowry helped him through the kitchen door.…He was so happy and thankful to be home and to have some of mother’s good cooking which he loved.…Mother made him as comfortable as possible in the big east bedroom. He loved the sunshine and wanted the blind at the east window up just as high as it could go.…So many friends came to call on him—to express their gratitude to him for his kindness to them. The last was Brother James Simpkins, who had been father’s last ward teaching companion. What a good visit they had! As Brother Simpkins left, father assured him that he would soon be well and they would be out together again. Shortly after that, his brother, Ad, came and visited awhile. Then father fell into a peaceful sleep from which he never awakened. Mother and Uncle Ad were sitting close when he stopped breathing.”46 Anderson was sixty-seven years old.
It was not until after his death that the comprehensive nature and artistic value of Anderson’s negative collection became known. There were literally tens of thousands of negatives on his gallery shelves, many of them extraordinarily clear exposures intended for his Birth of Mormonism series but which had never been printed. Olive attempted to get the cluttered file into order. Finally Junius F. Wells, one of the leaders in building the Joseph Smith Memorial in Vermont and a friend while Anderson was photographing church sites in New England, and John F. Bennett, Anderson’s friend from the Savage studio days, approached Mrs. Anderson and offered to purchase the collection on behalf of the Mormon church for $3,000. Mrs. Anderson gladly consented. Bennett kept a few negatives, but most were donated to the church.47
Wells was aware of Anderson’s dream for a complete photo history of Mormonism and shared in the photographer’s vision. He had plans to put the [p.226] negatives in order, but unfortunately Wells died shortly after the purchase, and the job was never finished. For years the Anderson negatives gathered dust in a corner of the LDS historical department. Then in the 1960s someone felt additional space was needed for other more important documents, and the decision was made to separate out the historically valuable scenes from Anderson’s negatives and then to microfilm the rest and discard them. After all, the reasoning went, most of the portraits were unidentified.48 Workers started the microfilming project, and as each negative was photographed and the photographer’s India ink notations on the emulsion recorded, it was broken and the glass was transported to the dump.
Fortunately one of the workers, Drucilla Powell Smith, began taking the negatives home box by box instead of breaking them. Her intent was to sell them to collectors at twenty-five cents per negative or to give them to descendants of the people in the photographs. She took home some 16,000 negatives before the microfilming was done.
Many of the railroad scenes ended up in the private collections of Robert Edwards, a railroad historian from Salt Lake Vity, and Jackson Thode, author and veteran employee of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in Denver. Some 10,000 of Anderson’s plates were eventually turned over to Leo Crandall, former president of the Springville Stake of the Mormon church. Crandall in turn gave them to Springville photographer Rell G. Francis, who for nearly twenty years made prints from them for sale. Francis published a book on Anderson’s photographs in 1979 and in 1990 sold his portion of the negative collection to Brigham Young University for $30,000.
Smith also gave another 3,000 to 6,000 Anderson negatives to the Price Genealogical Society and to Mrs. Everett Berensen, a genealogist in Price. Berensen and the society subsequently turned their collections over to Brigham Young University. Since 1973 Brigham Young University has attempted to pull the Anderson collection of negatives back together for archival preservation and scholarly use. Their value to Utah and Mormon history is now widely acclaimed, [p.227] and Anderson’s artistic, documentary photography is finally receiving its just praise.
After the funeral for Anderson in 1928, Eva Crandall, a neighbor who often rode behind old Nubbins when Anderson made his rounds, wrote about “Our Village Photographer” for a local newspaper: “The ground he traveled was hallowed to him. I can almost hear him say, ‘I must have a picture of this sacred spot.…When I return all will be changed. Some of these old landmarks will be obliterated. Who will see them as I see them now?’”49
1. J. Cecil Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, 3 vols. (Chicago: American Historical Society, Inc., 1932), 2:330, lists John F. Bennett’s birth date as 11 July 1865. Anderson family genealogy lists George Edward Anderson’s birth date as 28 October 1860. James L. Haseltine, 100 Years of Utah Painting (Salt Lake City: Wheelwright Lithography, n.d.), 41, lists John Hafen’s birth date as 22 March 1856.
9. This photograph is in the archives of the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. It is a quarter-plate glass negative, a little smaller than four-by-five inches. An original Anderson albumen print of this picture in my possession is cropped to 2¼ by 3¾ inches. The imprint on the reverse side is an impression from a crude, rubber stamp in purple ink. It reads: “G. E. Anderson, Portrait and Landscape Photographer, Views…P. O. Box 614, Salt Lake City.” Much on the imprint is faded and unreadable.
12. Springville Independent, special edition, 27 Mar. 1906. This newspaper contains an advertisement-like news story headlined, “Largest and Most Complete Art Studio in the State.” It is difficult to imagine that Anderson’s studio in Springville was larger than Savage’s, Johnson’s, or Shipler’s in Salt Lake City.
35. According to the Springville City Directory, Ralph Snelson took over their business in 1939. The collection of their negatives was stored in various places, including a chicken coop, [p.229] in Provo for many years. In 1974 they were donated to the Lee Library.
42. Collett interview. In addition, Anderson’s diaries, although little more than a daily chronicle of trivia about his life, do give insight into the photographer’s constant struggle to control his explosive temper. Whenever it flared, there was a great feeling of remorse afterwards. And frequently he wrote about experiences in which it took “a great deal of effort to keep pleasant.” Anderson Journal, 21 Jan. 1915.
44. John Henry Evans, Birth of Mormonism in Picture, with photos by G.E. Anderson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1909). Copy given to the author by G. Lowry Anderson, the photographer’s son.
47. The Bennett Collection, Utah Historical Society, Salt Lake City, contains a number of original Anderson glass negatives which were acquired from Standard Optical Company, successor to the old Utah Photo Materials Company, where Bennett had his historic photographs printed and stores.
48. Anderson, however, meticulously identified the client on every negative, writing with India ink, in reverse on the edge of the emulsion. This was an old photographer’s trick, so in the contact print the writing would be reversed back to normal.