CARLETON E. WATKINS (1829-1916) A set of 14 photographs of Big River mills and sweeping scenes of Mendocino, California. Arch-topped mammoth-plate albumen prints, the images each measuring approximately 15 1/2x20 1/2 inches (39.4x52.1 cm.), the mounts 18x23 inches (45.7x58.4 cm.), and slightly smaller, each with Watkins' signature, in ink, on mount recto, and a number, in pencil, in an unknown hand, and provenance documentation, including Judge William Vaughn's credit, in pencil, and Emery Escola's hand stamp, on mount verso. 1863
From the Mendocino Lumber Company; to Judge William Vaughn, Mendocino; then gifted to Emery Escola, Mendocino; by descent to the Present Owners.
In 1863, Carleton Watkins traveled to Mendocino, California. Though there is little documentation surrounding this trip, it is likely that Jerome B. Ford, superintendent of the Big River Mill, may have been the impetus for Watkins' trip to the area. With the growing lumber industry, Ford may have wanted to photograph his burgeoning lumber business. His home is also depicted in Watkins' works from this period. Watkins' approach of traveling to photograph client commissions and taking additional images of the area for commercial sale, may have originated from this trip.
Mendocino's first sawmill, the Gang Mill, was financed by Henry Mieggs at the mouth of the Big River in 1852. The mill was supervised by Jerome Ford and E.C. Williams, and they opened a second mill, Big River Mill, in 1854. The Gang Mill, which is depicted in this group, closed four years after the construction of the Big River Mill. The company was founded by Mieggs as the California Lumber Manufacturing Company (1852-1855) and after undergoing financial difficulties in 1855, it was run by Ford and Williams but renamed the Mendocino Lumber Company (1855-1872). Though undergoing changes in ownership and company names, the sawmills continued operation until 1938.
This group of Watkins' photographs of Mendocino includes photographs of the city's coastal buildings, depictions of the mills along the Big River, including the original Gang Mill and the Big River Mill, and astounding landscape views looking out onto the Big River and Mendocino Bay. Of note are two images of the Big River Mill, one likely taken earlier in October 1863 of the mill and another of the debris of the same mill, which was taken after a fire destroyed the mill on October 17, 1863.
Naef and Hult-Lewis, Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs (The J. Paul Getty Museum), cat. nos. 384-386, 389, 391-394, 396-399, 409, and 410, pgs. 170-179.