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History and Culture

Ansel Adams & Local Artists

Get better acquainted with artistic legacy during your Yosemite vacation by visiting the Ansel Adams Gallery and galleries of basket making and painting.

For centuries, artists have found inspiration in the Yosemite Valley, the Tuolumne Meadows highlands and the Sierra Nevada high country, and the park’s groves of giant sequoia trees. With all this natural beauty surrounding your, it’s easy to understand why painters and poets alike have been drawn to this special place. Today, you can easily get better acquainted with their artistic legacy during your Yosemite vacation.

Photographer Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams photo of Yosemite
Ansel Adams Trees with snow on branches, \”Half Dome, Apple Orchard, Yosemite,\” California. April 1933Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Perhaps more than any other artist, modern photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) has become symbolic of Yosemite. His arresting black-and-white images of park icons such as Half Dome are among the most enduring in the American imagination.

Born in San Francisco, Ansel Adams first visited Yosemite Valley as a teenager with his family in 1916. Over the years, Adams grew to love photographing in the Sierra Nevada, often taking rugged trips into the high country with his uncle. He also became an avid environmentalist. His most famous photograph of Yosemite, Monolith (1927), depicts a snow-dusted Half Dome dramatically set against a dark sky. Another famous image taken by Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, Clearing Winter Storm, dates back to the mid-1930s.

Today, you can view archival reproductions and original prints at the photographer’s namesake Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. Located inside historic Best’s photography studio, this gallery is still run by Adams’ family today. It also curates temporary exhibitions by contemporary photographers and offers photography classes, workshops, and guided photography trips in the park. For more information, visit or call (888) 361-7622.

Photographer Carleton Watkins

View From Camp Grove photograph by Carleton E. Watkins
View From Camp Grove photograph by Carleton E. WatkinsPublic Domain

Adams was not the first to photograph Yosemite’s epic landscapes, however. He followed in the footsteps of other giants, such as Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), whose large-format prints of Yosemite captures the American public’s imagination in the late 19th century. Watkins’s Yosemite photographs were the images that convinced President Lincoln and the 38th U.S. Congress to pass the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, legislation that preserved the land for public use and set a precedent for America’s National Park system. 2014 is the year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant.

More than 70 of Watkins’ photographs of Yosemite and the Pacific Coast, including many of the Bay Area and San Francisco, will be on view at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center April 23-August 17, 2014. They are stunning and a true technical achievement at the dawn of photography — the resolution of Watkins’ images is better than high-end digital photography of today due to the custom camera he built and the mammoth glass plate negatives he used. More information at

Landscape Painter Thomas Hill

Thomas Hill painting of Yosemite
Resting By A Stream by Thomas HillPublic Domain

Among the many artists who first created images of Yosemite in the 19th century were landscape painters. Prominent among them was Thomas Hill (1829-1908), who first visited Yosemite during the mid-1860s in the company of photographer Carleton Watkins.

A student of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, Hill made annual sketching trips to Yosemite for several decades. In the late 1880s, he also traveled to Alaska at the request of famous Yosemite conservationist John Muir. Later in his life, Hill ran a small art studio next to the Wawona Hotel. Today, you can find displays about his artwork inside Hill’s historic studio, which now serves as the park’s Wawona Information Station.

Other places in the Yosemite Valley where you can view landscape paintings, sketches, and watercolors include the Yosemite Museum, which hosts rotating temporary exhibitions with natural themes.

Nearby, the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center also has some colorful exhibits about the artistic and literary heritage of the national park, as well as contemporary artists who are still at work in the region today.

Native American Basketry and Beadwork by Lucy Telles

Mono Lake Paiute Miwok artist Lucy Telles, \
Mono Lake Paiute Miwok artist Lucy Telles, \”with her largest basket.\” Taken in Yosemite Valley, at Yosemite National ParkPublic Domain

Basket making was a traditional craft among Native Americans in the Sierra Nevada region. Miwok and Paiute tribespeople were known for their intricately woven basketry. When a greater influx of tourists began arriving in Yosemite Valley around the turn of the 20th century, the demand for woven baskets for souvenirs grew.

Basket woven by Miwok-Mono Paiute artist Lucy Telles
Basket woven by Miwok-Mono Paiute artist Lucy TellesPhoto by Ernest Amoroso, National Museum of the American Indian, Public Domain

One of the most prolific weavers in Yosemite was Lucy Telles (1885-1955), who creatively incorporated beadwork and bold motifs from the Great Plains into her basket designs, which used the traditional colors of black (from bracken ferns) and red (from redbud twigs) in unique combination. Lucy Telles demonstrated her craft to park visitors from the 1930s until her death.

Today, many of her baskets are still on display in the Yosemite Valley at the Yosemite Museum, where Native American basket-weaving and beadwork demonstrations are occasionally given.