Wetherill Family Archives October 2009

Wetherill Family Archives  October 2009

Looking for Jimmy-Part II

Another road trip for Shadows on the Mesa-Artists of the Painted Desert and Beyond

Scheduled for publication Fall 2012

 Birger Sandzen Painted Desert

Painted Desert by Birger Sandzen

My next major “expedition” in search of Jimmy was more cerebral in nature than physical. During the first weekend in October I ventured to Prescott, Arizona to meet with Wetherill family archivist Harvey Leake.  Harvey has a treasure trove of vintage photographs from his great grandparent’s trading post days.  But before the meeting I stopped at the Phippen Museum to pose for a photo op marking the donation of one of Jimmy’s finest paintings, Near Sedona.

The painting was bequeathed by David Picerne, owner of the Picerne Collection of Arizona Landmark Art, who donated the painting to the museum to coincide with the opening of The Greatest Earth on Show.                    

As can be seen in the painting/photo comparison below, what used to be “Near Sedona” could easily be re titled”In the Middle of Sedona”. You can literally drive right into the view shown in the painting while heading north on Route 179. However standing in the middle of the road taking photographs usually doesn’t work to well and typically elevates tempers. It’s a busy highway that makes such an endeavor a hazardous undertaking -not recommended. So I was forced to take the picture below from the upper deck of a friend’s pool house near Back of Beyond. (Yes, that’s right, upper deck of a pool house. It’s a hard life in Sedona.) Although the photo is taken from an a different angle(further to the west) it’s clear Jimmy’s painting is of the mesa and formations on the west side of Schnebly Hill Road.

Now on to the main event.

 James Swinnerton Near Sedona


While the scenery on this trip might not have been comparable to my last outing, the view from Harvey’s house high on a ridge near Prescott is not too shabby either.    The photo on the right is the first one I inspected.  Needless to say we were off to a good start.

Yes, I know. That’s Teddy, not Jimmy.  So what does Teddy Roosevelt have to do with the price of a Jimmy Swinnerton painting you ask?  Well it seems Teddy was a visitor to Kayenta in 1913.  His entry in the Wetherill -Colville Guest Ranch’s first guest book made the item so coveted by collectors that it was eventually “lifted”.  As a result, we have no idea when Jimmy’s first visit to Kayenta was -or anyone else who might have visited prior to 1922 for that matter.  The heist was a real crime against Arizona art history, even if it was stolen for the autograph of an ex-president.

Teddy kind of looks in the photo like he just caught the guest book thief red handed.  Maybe he did.  Too bad photos can’t talk. Moving on…

Theodore Roosevelt on horse-Kayenta Arizona 1913

Theodore Roosevelt-Kayenta, Arizona 1913

 Courtesy of John and Louisa Wetherill Collection

Ironically, the second photo Harvey showed me wasn’t even from his collection.  As noted, it’s from the Sharlot Hall Museum archives.  But it was a real find. One of the “regulars” at the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch in the 1920’s was Ferdinand Burgdorff.  Burgdorff was a Santa Fe Railroad artist who later went on to become one of the early members of the Carmel Colony.  I was really stoked when I saw this photo because I have never seen or heard of a personal photo of Burgdorff and so this was another “first”. I also had no idea what he looked like. That’s him seated in the front row on the far left.   Then it dawned on me that all these people were apparently posing for a costume party, so I still have no idea what he looked like.  Oh well, it’s a cool photo anyway.  And who are “these people” you ask?  Well I know …  and yes!  That’s Jimmy standing on the far left.

I could almost title this photo “All the Usual Suspects”.

Here we have the humble beginnings of the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch in 1910. One can only imagine the star ratings the lodge would have received if Trip Advisor had been around then.  Of course the six day horseback ride alone from Flagstaff to Kayenta would have probably killed those reviewers who routinely slap motels with one star ratings for “lumpy mattresses” and “indifferent guest clerks”.

For those of you wondering “What’s it look like now?” I’ll try to get some photos posted from the same perspective after my next trip to Kayenta.  I know there’s a NAPA store and a Radio Shack where the tents are.  The Wetherill Lodge Best Western Inn is on top of the ridge…You get the idea.  Although the surrounding area is still one of unspoiled beauty, the town is pretty much like “Anywhere, USA.”

Meanwhile, you can always enjoy the famous U-Tube video about the site by clicking here, complete with insightful text comments like “The trading post In kayenta arizona now a napa store!” and “damn i used to steal candy? and cigs frm there psh!!”.

Wetherill Trading Post 1910

Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch-1910

Courtesy of John and Louisa Wetherill Collection

OK, so by now you’re probably saying something along the lines of “Thanks to the photo above I know what it looked like a hundred years ago and now that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and danced to the U-tube video, I get the idea what it looks like now. But what did it look like in between then?”

The photo to your right will answer your question. This was circa 1940.

I couldn’t find Jimmy in this photo either, but that is his fourth wife (or fifth, depending on whether one chooses to believe his biographer Harold Davidson, or the U.S. Census records) Gretchen seated on the far left.  That’s John Wetherill standing.  The man seated to his right was a Presbyterian missionary who was excommunicated from the church when they found out about his affinity for young girls.  The girl to his right is unknown and maybe one of the reasons he had to find a new day job.  I don’t know who the Navajo guy on the far right is either, but I’m thinking he might be the one who texted the “damn I used to steal candy and cigs from there” message.  I mean check out that look on his face. He’s looking at Wetherill like the cat who just swallowed the canary, and it looks like he has a pack of “cigs” in his left hand.

John Wetherill and Gretchen Swinnerton

Wetherill-Colville Trading Post-Circa 1940

Courtesy of John and Louisa Wetherill Collection

OK, here’s something you don’t see every day.  Check out the photo below. No, that’s not Jimmy dressed up for another costume party.  That’s Louisa Wetherill and Hoskininni Begay dressed for a day of fun in the sun on the beach in Santa Barbara, California.  It it wasn’t for the palm tree in the background I’d question the accuracy of the location, even given the outstanding provenance of the photo.  It looks more to me like they’re dressed for a day at the beach in Bandon, Oregon than Santa Barbara, but I digress.

One of the many questions which has arisen during my research was why did Carl Oscar Borg go all the way to Kayenta in 1924 and not create one painting or drawing of Monument Valley or any of the other local landmarks?  (I know! I know! I know! Just because I haven’t seen any doesn’t mean they’re not “out there” somewhere. But even his biographer, Helen Laird, told me she’s not aware of any.)  Well this photo below helps provide a missing link of sorts, although it doesn’t really answer the question.

In 1923, Hoskininni Begay (son of famous Navajo chief Hoskininni), Wolfkiller, and Louisa Wetherill made a trip to Santa Barbara to re-enact an ancient pilgrimage the Navajo used to make to collect “foam, water, and shells” for their ceremonies. As you can see by the crowd, it attracted a little attention. Borg was at the event.  One of the many cool items in Harvey’s archives is a sweet little watercolor Borg painted of Hoskninni Begay and Wolfkiller on the beach(saving it for the book).   I can safely theorize that Santa Barbara resident Borg, a regular visitor to the Grand Canyon and Canyon De Chelly, was invited to Kayenta by Louisa Wetherill sometime during this trip.  It was an invitation he accepted when he came the following summer, accompanied by his wife and C.J. Birchfield, an advertising executive for the Santa Fe Railroad (Like Burgdorff, Borg was also a Santa Fe Railroad artist).

So although this likely explains why Borg came to Kayenta in 1924, it deepens the mystery even more as to why he painted the surrounding area either sparingly or not at all.  Was he told by Birchfield something along the lines of “There’s nothing but a bunch of big rocks around here. Keep painting Canyon De Chelly and the Grand Canyon”?  Did Borg just not find the area that inspirational himself? (Hard to imagine).  When Borg returned to California he moved from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles immediately thereafter.  Did his sketch book from the trip get lost in the move?  As is sometimes the case in these endeavors, the answer to one question just leads to many more.

Louisa Wetherill and Hoskininni Begay

Santa Barbara, California 1923

Courtesy of John and Louisa Wetherill Collection

For the final segment of our program, I would like to present an example of my single minded obsession with my subject matter.

When I first stumbled across this section of the lodge’s guest book I was really stoked.  Although for some reason he didn’t enter a drawing or painting when he came to Kayenta with Jimmy, Buck Weaver’s signature alone was proof one more artist of note had visited the Wetherills.  I was so excited.  “Hey, that’s Buck Weaver! He’s the guy that used to make the frames for Edgar Payne.  He used to help Maynard Dixon and Edith Hamlin with their murals! This is so cool!”

It wasn’t until I came back home and started carefully inspecting my photos that I noticed the entry two signatures below Buck’s.  OK, I know that guy wasn’t an artist, but if you saw the recent PBS special on National Parks by Ken Burns, he was a pretty big important guy in some circles.  At least I think this is the same guy.

Seriously, this is pretty good evidence that there was a strong movement in the 1920’s and 30’s to make Monument Valley a national park and include it on the “Park to Park” highway.

Of course, someone else might refer to my “single minded obsession” as “myopic” or something along the lines of “What an oblivious idiot.”  Well no matter.  Suffice to say a good time was had by all.

buck weavers signature

That’s it for now. All kidding aside, I really was astounded by the depth and breadth of Harvey’s archives. Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. (Hey, I have to save something for the book.)  My brain felt like it was in sensory overload for the next 48 hours, but needless to say it was worth it.  Now on to the usual commercial messages.

If you or anyone you know has any paintings by these artists or old photographs that you believe would make a good addition to the book, I encourage you to contact me.

You can always keep up to date with future blog entries by joining our Facebook Club.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to order your copy of Desert Horizons-Images of James Swinnerton’s Southwest (shown at right). Over fifty color plates of Swinnerton’s paintings and original cartoon art along with a dozen never before published personal photographs.   A good read too…the guy was a real character.   Your purchase will help to fund these trips.

Thank you for reading.

James Swinnerton Desert Horizons Cover

Desert Horizons-Images of James Swinnerton’s Southwest

Now available for purchase

Blue Coyote Gallery                                480-488-2334                            Contact
6141 E. Cave Creek Rd.                          Cave Creek                                Arizona                          85331

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s