The Victorian Era was giving way to the birth of the 20th century. One young man with an eager ambition was ready to embrace the opportunities that a changing California in the 1880s had to offer. Arriving in California at the age of nineteen, Charles C. Curtis answered a newspaper advertisement for a young man to learn the photography business, a profession that would lead Curtis and his family to adventures the likes of which motion pictures are made.
Little did Curtis know that the path his footsteps and camera took would lead to capturing a critical piece of California history. The wheat bonanza in the San Joaquin Valley (complete with boomtown and all the human frailties connected with it) offered many opportunities for a photographer who was willing to ride by donkey from place to place. Later he would take many photographs of the Kaweah Colony, a pioneer socialist experiment in co-operative living of which he and his wife, Maria, were members. After leaving the colony he took photographs documenting the beginning of the logging of giant sequoia trees at Big Stump in today's Kings Canyon National Park, and later the nearby logging town of Millwood. His pre-national park photographs recently acquired of the Giant Grove area show these majestic giants standing, their delicate roots and bark being trampled by man. His talent captured the felling of two giant sequoia trees for exhibition, one taking him on a trip to Chicago, Illinois, to the World's Columbian Exposition (a.k.a., The Chicago World's Fair of 1893). During the span of eleven years, his life was intermixed with many activities and people that contributed to the creation of two national parks and later the addition of a national monument.
In 2009, over fifty glass plate negatives and several rare Curtis photographs were discovered, bringing this already great story to yet another level. These rare photographs, along with other newly acquired documentation, help give a glimpse into the mindset behind the solemn faces of most of these photographs. Each face has a story. Over 125 photographs are just a part of this inspirational story.
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