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  A. C. Vroman, Photographer

Adam Clark Vroman was born to Adam and Susan Clark Vroman in Homer, Illinois on April 15, 1856. Virtually nothing is known about his early years, but as a young adult, Mr. Vroman worked for several Illinois railroads before marrying Esther Hollingshead Griest and relocating to Pasadena, California in 1892. He hoped the warmer climate would improve his wife’s frail health. Sadly, however, Mrs. Vroman died two years later, but her husband remained in Pasadena, where, along with partner J. S. Glasscock, he opened the town’s first bookstore. Glasscock & Vroman, which also sold stationery, was located at the heart of the business district, at 60 East Colorado Boulevard. When Mr. Glasscock left the firm, Mr. Vroman expanded the inventory to include cameras, perhaps to satiate his growing interest in the medium. As a Kodak dealer, he became acquainted with photographer Frederick I. Monsen, who became known for his Hopi photographs.

Mr. Vroman’s life took a dramatic turn when local civic leaders Charles F. Lummis and George Wharton James informed him that several Spanish missions throughout southern California had fallen into shocking disrepair. He enthusiastically joined their restoration efforts with his roll-film Kodak in hand. Mr. Vroman’s style was reflective of the period that had moved away from evocative Pictorialism and became more documentarian in nature, striking a delicate balance between science and artistic expression. His landscapes and Pueblo portraits featured on his Fred Harvey postcards are both visually attractive and realistic. Winning the trust of a skeptical Native American was no easy task, as Mr. Vroman later recalled: “You cannot rush him… sit down with him, show him the camera… stand on your head (on the ground-glass) for him, or anything you want him to do, and he will do the same for you.” Mr. Vroman’s photographs not merely chronicled the tribal way of life; they presented their rituals realistically and without judgment.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Vroman traveled throughout California, Arizona, and New Mexico to photograph the Hopi in their natural habitat. The Desert is one of his most recognizable photographs, contrasting the vast landscape that practically dwarfs the pair of horse-drawn wagons. The pillowy clouds “articulate a dynamic relationship between earth and sky.” Although he regarded himself as strictly an amateur photographer, his talents were utilized in a trio of scientific expeditions throughout the American Southwest. He became somewhat of an expert in the traditions and customs of various native peoples, and amassed a vast private collection that included ornate Navajo blankets and Hopi kachina dolls as well as Japanese netsukes (intricately carved feudal ornaments).

Sixty-year-old Adam C. Vroman died on July 24, 1916, and was eulogized by one of his employees as having devoted his life “to the pleasure of others.” His bookseller – which became the first of its kind to introduce computers in 1968 -- remains a treasured Pasadena landmark, now located at 695 East Colorado Boulevard. Pasadena’s Huntington Library, as part of California’s online archive, houses the A. C. Vroman Photographic Collection, which consists of 69 photographs, 131 prints, and 38 glass negatives. Other examples of his work can be found within various southern California libraries as well as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

2006 Explorers in Eden by Jerold S. Auerbach (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press), pp. 74-75.

1999 Historic Pasadena: An Illustrated History by Ann Scheid Lund (San Antonio, TX: Historical Publishing Network), pp. 134-135.

2006 The Modern West: American Landscapes, 1890-1950 by Emily Ballew Neff (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), pp. 130-132.

1996 Nampeyo and Her Pottery by Barbara Kramer (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press), pp. 24, 79-81.

1913 Who's Who in the Pacific Southwest: A Compilation of Authentic Biographical Sketches of Citizens of Southern California and Arizona. (Los Angeles, CA: Times-Mirror Printing & Binding House), p. 376.

1981 Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response by Lee Clark Mitchell (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), pp. 88, 142, 144.

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2020-05-17 11:46:07

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