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Environmental Collections at The Bancroft Library: Pictorial Collections

Overview of Collections

The Bancroft Library has significant pictorial and graphic holdings documenting the environmental movement in the West. Consisting primarily of photographic negatives and prints, other formats also include paintings, prints, drawings, posters, and advertising memorabilia. While there are stand-alone pictorial collections, many of the personal, organizational, and industry archives have a companion pictorial component that is cataloged separately.

Government Surveys

In 1867, the U.S. Congress authorized western explorations that focused on geology and natural resources in the lands gained by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Mexican-American War in 1848. This resulted in the four great surveys of the West: King (1867), Powell (1869), Hayden (1871), and Wheeler (1872). The expeditions were extensively visually documented by pioneer photographers such as T. H. O'Sullivan and John K. Hillers.

Smaller-scale government surveys, such as the California State Geological Survey in 1864 and the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey conducted through the late 1800s, also captured images of the diverse natural landscape of the West. George Davidson, a geographer and surveyor who had a nearly six decades-long accomplished career with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, knew the value of photography in describing and revealing the West. His collection of numerous landscape views include those of well-regarded photographers such as Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson, and Eadweard Muybridge.

Grand Canyon

The Northern Wall of the Grand Canon of the Colorado, near the foot of the To-ro-weap Valley
Image citation: Western survey expeditions of 1871, 1872, 1873, and 1874, BANC PIC 1905.17116:14--STER, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Carleton Watkins

A true gem of Bancroft's pictorial holdings is the collection of expansive views of Yosemite landscapes captured by acclaimed photographer Carleton Watkins. Watkins first photographed Yosemite in 1861, using both his mammoth-plate and stereoscopic cameras. The end result was thirty glass plates and almost one hundred stereo-view negatives of rarely documented natural features of the Yosemite Valley - the first images of the area to ever be seen by Americans on the East Coast. These images were passed to the U.S. Congress and influenced President Abraham Lincoln to grant Yosemite national park status in 1864. The success of the 1861 trip led to his employment by the California State Geological Survey, which hired him to return to Yosemite to make a new series of prints in 1865.

The Bancroft Library has the most varied collections of Watkins landscapes in the world, encompassing western mining, railroads, agriculture, scientific surveys, the Pacific Coast, the Sierras, the city of San Francisco and its environs, and more.

Yosemite photographed by Carleton Watkins

YoSemite Falls, 2534 Feet
Image citation: Mammoth plate landscape photographs from the George Davidson collection, BANC PIC 1905.17143:059--ffALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Ansel Adams

A long-time and prominent member of the Sierra Club, landscape photographer Ansel Adams is perhaps best known for his extensive work in visually capturing Yosemite National Park and the surrounding Sierra Nevadas. Adams enjoyed commercial success as a photographer, taking on assignments from the Sierra Club (serving as official photographer of its High Country excursions), the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Kodak, and the University of California. He was a lifelong advocate for environmental conservation and leveraged his photographs in its cause.

Eagle Scout Peak from Kaweah Gap

Eagle Scout Peak from Kaweah Gap
Image citation: Sierra Club photograph albums, BANC PIC 1971.031.1932.02:157--ff ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

The Honeyman Collection

The Robert B. Honeyman Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material is composed of more than 2300 items focused on pictorial interpretations of the Old West. Formats and media within this collection range from original oil paintings (such as the image depicted below) to engraved souvenir spoons. A recurring theme is the changing landscape of the West under the impact of westward migration.

Sentinel Rock painted by William Keith

Sentinel Rock, Yosemite California
Image citation: Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. collection of early Californian and Western American pictorial material, BANC PIC 1963.002:1351--FR, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Sierra Club Photograph Collections

The Sierra Club has diverse pictorial collections at The Bancroft Library, ranging from historical photographs of the early days of the club, to more recent gatherings and clean-up campaigns. Formats include large mammoth plate views of Yosemite Valley, albums documenting club outings in the Sierra Nevada range, and photographic evidence of the detrimental environmental impact of logging and campsites. These graphic collections are findable through OskiCat by searching "Sierra Club Collection" in the Title field.

A Group of Sierra Club People

A Group of Sierra Club People around the Giant in the Big Basin, 1902
Image citation: Sierra Club photograph albums, BANC PIC 1971.031.1902.3:118--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Posters and Objects

In addition to photographs and paintings, Bancroft's pictorial collections contain substantial material in 2D and 3D formats. These include posters, bumper stickers, campaign and advertising memorabilia, and souvenirs.

Benefit for the Workplace & the Environment Poster

Benefit for the Workplace & the Environment Poster
Image citation: Poster miscellany of the 1960's and 1970's, BANC PIC 19xx.487--C Box 1, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Restore Hetch Hetchy Bumper Stickers

Restore Hetch Hetchy Bumper Stickers
Image citation: Restore Hetch Hetchy object collection, BANC PIC 2005.185--PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley