The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park

The Interesting History of the Ansel Adams Gallery

How much do you really know about the fascinating history of the Ansel Adams Gallery at Yosemite?

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is one of the most influential American photographers in history. His love affair with Yosemite and the beauty of the National Parks is evident in his iconic black and white landscape photography.

Even though Adams died in 1984, Yosemite today is still a part of the Ansel Adams legacy as the Ansel Adams Gallery is located in the heart of Yosemite Valley and is the authorized concessioner of the National Park Service. The gallery (originally called Best’s Studio) has been managed since 1902 by the Ansel Adams family.

The History of the Ansel Adams Gallery – Humble Beginnings in a … Tent?

In 1902, a San Francisco landscape painter (Harry Best) took a trip to Yosemite Valley to do some camping and painting. As often the case in life, Best had no idea that this simple trip would be the beginning of a lifelong journey involving photography and the beauty of the Yosemite area. While on his trip he met Anne Rippey, who was working in one of the photography studios in the Valley. They were married that summer (1902) after a very short courtship.

Soon thereafter, the Bests opened their art studio in a tent. Harry and Anne would return to Yosemite each summer to sell and promote artwork and paintings. In 1904, they built the original Best’s Studio in the old Yosemite Village and began living permanently in Yosemite Valley in 1926.

photo of grand canyon by ansel adams
The Grand Canyon by Ansel Adams. Courtesy of National Archives Photo 79-AAF-1

A Family Affair

This Best’s Studio was truly a family affair as the husband-and-wife team produced and sold paintings and offered other photography services. Besides Harry and Anne, the Studio represented Arthur and Alice Best, Harry’s brother and sister-in-law. Harry himself was a talented artist but the Studio was also successful because of their commitment to creating a positive experience for those that visited Yosemite. The Best’s Studio also became a social gathering place due in part to it having the only piano in the Park. Harry and Anne’s daughter, Virginia, had a nice singing voice which added to the social attraction of the Studio.

The Importance of a Piano in Yosemite Valley

It is now time for Ansel Adams to enter the story. In 1920, Adams became the caretaker for the Sierra Club’s LeConte Lodge. As noted in my previous article, name of the article, at that point Ansel Adams’ career goal was to become a concert pianist. As Best’s Studio had the only piano in town, Ansel would visit there frequently to practice the piano and to enjoy the singing voice and company of Virginia Best. As often is the case, one thing led to another and on January 2, 1928, Ansel Adams and Virginia Best were married. Appropriately, the marriage took place in the newly completed Best’s Studio.

photo of glacier national park mountains by ansel adams
Glacier National Park by Ansel Adams. Courtesty of National Archives Photo 79-AAM-4

A Win-Win Relationship

Ansel Adams’ journey as a photographer was truly just beginning and his relationship with Best’s Studio was truly a win-win for both. He could provide the Studio with stunning photographs of the area and the Studio could provide an outlet to display his work as well as financial support. Ansel and Virginia had two children and split their time between San Francisco and Yosemite. During World War II, they moved to Yosemite to be there year-round.

Shifting Focus

Harry Best passed away in 1936 and his daughter, Virginia, inherited Best’s Studio and its business. At this time, she and Ansel decided to begin to offer merchandise and services to create a new business model. They wanted to emphasize the beauty of the area and help cultivate respect for the landscape and environment so the artists and the tourists who visited Yosemite and the surrounding area would truly appreciate their time spent there.

Additionally, Virginia was an avid reader and she added books to sell to the Studio’s product line that would complement their new vision for Best’s Studio. She and Ansel also offered other items that would be of interest such as cards and photographic-related items. They would expand the offerings over the years and, in the 1950s, began selling a series of Ansel’s photographs called the Yosemite Special Edition Photographs which are still offered today.

Teaching Others – Adding Workshops

Ansel and Virginia Adams continued to provide unique photographic opportunities and in 1940 began the Photography Workshop Program which was one of the first photographic education programs in the country. The workshops were one week long with various sessions including instruction in field, classroom, and darkroom technique. There would be 10 to 12 students and, as you can imagine, this opportunity to interact with Ansel Adams made a lifelong impression on those that attended the workshops.

photo of grand tetons over jackson lake wyoming
Grand Tetons over Jackson Lake by Ansel Adams. Courtesty of National Archives Photo 79-AAG-6

Changing of the Guard – and the Ansel Adams Gallery Today

Virginia Best Adams operated the Studio until 1971 and at that point, the Studio management was overseen by Michael and Jane Adams, their son and daughter-in-law. The name was also changed to The Ansel Adams Gallery.

As with the Jackson Hole Fine Art Photography Galleries, the Ansel Adams Gallery continues with the same energy and spirit as in the past. It still promotes the values and love for nature that Ansel had. The Gallery represents upcoming artists, offers photography workshops, encourages environmental conservation, offers camera walks, and promotes the beauty of the area.

This quote from their website home page basically says it all: “The Ansel Adams Gallery strives to cultivate an aesthetic appreciation and concern for our world by offering visitors a unique variety of books, handcrafts, fine art prints, and an extraordinary collection of Ansel Adams original photographs.”

The beauty that attracted Harry and Virginia Best to the Yosemite area still attracts hikers, tourists, and lovers of nature. I am sure when they pitched the tent for their small summer studio in 1902 they had no idea that over 100 years later their venture would grow into a well-respected venue for artists and lovers of photography…. and would play an important role in the career path of one of America’s most famous black-and-white photography artists…. Ansel Adams.

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