William Henry Jackson (1843 – 1942) photograph Mission San Luis Rey. Photograph measures 17″ x 22″.
Born in Keesville, New York, William Jackson became an important artist, illustrator, and pioneer photographer of the American West. Most of his paintings were completed after he retired in the 1930s, and are based on earlier sketches and photographs created during his travels in the West.
He grew up in Troy, New York, and in 1858 began photography before moving to Vermont. He served in the Civil War, and then traveled by wagon train to California in 1866 and then back to Omaha, Nebraska, driving 150 horses from California. In Omaha, he set up a photography studio.
From 1870 to 1878, he was the official photographer for the Hayden Survey of Territories and traveled all over the West. In 1871, he took the first photographs of the Yellowstone region when he was traveling with survey artists Thomas Moran and William H. Holmes, and these photographs influenced the government’s decision to declare Yellowstone a national park. He also kept a sketchbook, doing an occasional landscape painting and a self portrait.
From 1879 to 1894, he was a photographer in Denver and reproduced his photographs on canvas and then colored them with watercolor and oil, being careful to preserve historical and geographical accuracy. From 1898 to 1924, he worked in Detroit with a publishing company, and in 1935, he painted four large oils of special events in the history of American geological surveys. One of his subjects was Ferdinand Hayden in Yellowstone Park.
He did a series of photographs around the world for Harper’s magazine, and then moved to Washington DC. In his mid 90s, he painted a series of western scenes for the Department of the Interior including four canvases in 1938 that measured 30 X 60; six canvases, 25 X 30; and 40 watercolors.
Painting had been something he did as an avocation when he got older, and these works, intended to show the paternal virtues of government involvement beginning with the Hayden Expedition, were distributed among several national parks including Yellowstone.
Jackson’s son, Clarence, an author from Colorado, did much to preserve his father’s legacy by writing books about his father and creating portfolios of his work. William Henry Jackson lived to the age of 99.
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone