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Thomas Almond Ayres
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Best known as the first artist to depict Yosemite Valley, landscape artist Thomas Almond Ayres created paintings and drawings of scenes of Yosemite, San Francisco and other parts of California. His works were reproduced as lithographs and magazine illustrations, which introduced Yosemite to the American people. Born in Woodbridge, New Jersey circa 1816, he may have lived for a time in Wisconsin and may also have worked as an engineering draftsman in St. Paul, Minn. Ayres traveled to California by steamship in 1849, and probably went to the gold fields before returning to San Francisco with a portfolio of sketches of miners and gold rush scenes. For five years he explored California, from south to north, notably creating drawings of views of San Francisco in 1854. In 1855 James Mason Hutchings (1820-1902), who planned to publish an illustrated magazine, hired Ayres to join a party that visited Yosemite Valley in 1855. During the five days the party spent in Yosemite Valley, Ayres made several drawings, including a view of the Valley from Inspiration point and depictions of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. Hutchings published a lithograph later that year after Ayres’s Yosemite Falls drawing as “The Yo-Hamite Falls” (also published as “The Yo-Semite Falls”), the first widely-distributed depiction of Yosemite. “Hutchings Illustrated California Magazine” appeared in 1856 with a story on Yosemite illustrated by four Ayres drawings. (Hutchings would go on to promote tourism in Yosemite and operate a hotel in the Valley.) Ayres returned to Yosemite in 1856 and created more drawings and at least one painting, probably of Tuolumne Meadows (1858, National Park Service, Yosemite Collection). He described his trip in an August 6, 1856 article in the “Daily Alta California” newspaper. He also painted a panorama entitled “Yosemite Valley and Falls” that he exhibited at McNulty’s Hall in Sacramento, where it proved to be very popular. Ayres took his portfolio to New York City in 1857 and exhibited his paintings and drawings at the American Art Union. While he was in the east he drew views of the Weehawken, New Jersey, estate of James Gore King (1791-1853) and the estate’s environs now at the New-York Historical Society. He was hired by Harper Brothers to create more California views to illustrate articles planned for “Harper’s Illustrated Weekly” and returned to California. After a two-month sketching excursion in southern California, he took the ship “Laura Bevan” from San Pedro bound to San Francisco. The ship sank in a fierce storm off the Farallon Islands near San Francisco on April 26, 1858, and all passengers and crew were lost. (TNB 3/2016). Selected bibliography: Anderson, Nancy K. “Thomas A. Ayres and His Early Views of San Francisco: Five Newly Discovered Drawings,” in The American Art Journal, vo. 19, no. 3 (Summer 1987), pp. 19-28. Van Nostrand, Jeanne. “Thomas A. Ayres: Artist-Argonaut of California,” California Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 3 (Sept. 1941), pp. 275-279.