Yosemite Valley's First Art Exhibit

Indian Life at Mirror Lake, 1878. Watercolor by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming
Indian Life at Mirror Lake, 1878.
Watercolor by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming (29.5'x19.25').
[Click to enlarge and for more images]

The first art exhibit in Yosemite Valley was held in 1878 by Lady Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming, a travel writer from a wealthy Scottish family. Lady Gordon-Cumming taught herself how to paint, and had help from prominent artists visiting her home. She traveled the world, mostly the Pacific and Asia, and often alone. Lady Gordon-Cumming was a prolific writer, and painted over a thousand watercolors of landscapes. She visited Yosemite in 1878, after arriving in San Francisco from a trip to Tahiti. She intended to visit for three days, but ended up staying three months. She says “I for one have wandered far enough over the wide world to know a unique glory when I am blessed by the sight of one . . .”

Of her art exhibit, Lady Gordon-Cumming says:

I have myself held rather an amusing Great Exhibition this afternoon. Latterly I have repeatedly been asked to “do portfolio” for the edification of various friends; but the people who took the keenest interest in all the sketches were just those who had not seen them, so I had promised them all to have a grand show before I leave the valley. That sad day, alas! is drawing near; so, having issued a general invitation to every man, woman, and child in the neighbourhood, I borrowed a lot of sheets from my landlady, who allowed me to nail them all round the outside of the wooden house. To these I fastened each sketch with small pins, so that the verandah became a famous picture gallery.

I certainly have got through a good deal of work in the last three months, having twenty-five finished drawings, and as many more very carefully drawn and half coloured. Most of these are large, for water-colour sketches—about thirty by twenty inches—as I find it far more troublesome to express such vast subjects on a smaller scale.

I was amused by the zeal with which one of the guides constituted himself showman, and went round and round the verandah descanting on every drawing. Hitherto he has always been so busy with tourists, that I had not previously discovered this kindred spirit. He did his work thoroughly; for when I returned from my walk, I found him still hard at it! I was much gratified by the enthusiasm of the Yō-semité-ites, as they recognised all their favourite points of view, and vouched for the rigid accuracy of each,—that being the one quality for which I have striven, feeling sorely aggrieved by the unscrupulous manner in which some celebrated artists have sacrificed faithfulness of outline to make grand Nature fit their ideal.

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Hi Dan, did you have a great New Years? Here is our comment on her; Lady Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming wrote about her travels. She wrote this about her trip to Yosemite and about the indigenous Native Americans in Hetch Hetchy valley in her book "Granite Crags of California" dated 1888; THE TUOLUMNE CANYON. pg 269 "farther on the same mighty ridge, a series of majestic pinnacles of glittering white granite. They are known as the Minarets. All these peaks and minarets are considered inaccessible, which, I should think, was the sole reason which could possibly inspire any one with a wish to climb them. The travellers did not seek a nearer acquaintance with the Lyell and Merced groups, though somewhat tempted by hearing that that region is accounted one of the wildest and grandest in the Sierras; but their chief anxiety was to visit a beautiful valley of the same character as this, called the Hetch-Hetchy Valley. It has only recently been discovered, having been one of the sanctuaries of the Pah-ute [Paiute] Indians, who reckon on always finding there an abundant acorn-harvest. This valley is quite easy of access from the lower end, a trail having been made the whole way from Big Oak Flat. From the upper end, it is a difficult but very beautiful expedition; and this was the route naturally preferred by these young men, to whom a little extra climbing was no objection. So from Mount Dana they returned to their former camping-ground at Soda Springs, and thence started on a twenty-miles march down the Tuolumne canyon, a deep and narrow gorge, through which the river rushes between precipitous granite cliffs, over a bed of glacier-polished rocks, making a rapid descent without any great falls, but forming, a succession of most beautiful shelving rapids and foaming cascades. There are two perpendicular falls,..." Lady Gordon-Cumming also did several paintings and drawings of Yosemite, Including this upclose section of her "Indians at Mirror Lake" showing Paiutes in Yosemite. Lady Gordon-Cumming's drawing was of a camp of Paiutes. Which can be easily identified by the Paiute style cradleboards and Paiute basket hat worn the woman seated front-left. Paiutes were the only tribe in the area to wear this style of hat. Also Paiutes were know to camp at Mirror Lake. Grizzly bear pelts can be seen hunging in the trees in Cummings painting above. John Muir wrote in his "Yosemite in the Winter (1872)"; "...As soon as bipeds left Yosemite, bears came in; not to grunt flattery to the falls, but to dine upon ridden-to-death horses. One burly old chief was killed at Nevada Falls by a party of Mono Indians. He was a brown or cinnamon bear, the prevailing species of the region." Guns brought the rapid end to California Grizzly Bears and quickly endangered the smaller bears around Yosemite. Where once the Mono Indians hunted bears with obisidian brought in from the Mono Lake area, the guns gave the Indians more of an advantage. Pounding acorns which we Paiutes called that action "Pota". We also had villages with that name. Bridgeport Valley was also called Pota or Pora. Have a great 2007 Dan.

Posted by Yosemite Indian on January 06, 2007 at 03:49 PM PST #

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