Saturday, September 02, 2017

Henry Hiester's amazingly creative New Mexico years

Henry T. Hiester (1845-1895), Part 2
By Frank D. Myers

Compare the Henry T. Hiester image above, taken at Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico during the 1870s, with his Chariton streetscape views of the 1880s featured here yesterday and you get some idea of why rural Iowa might have seemed a rather tame place after years of adventure in the American Southwest. The image is from the New York Public Library collection.

Hiester, in his late 20s and early 30s when he roamed the Southwest, was near 40 and middle age by the time he arrived in Lucas County.

Born Dec. 17, 1845, in Pennsylvania, Henry was the son of a German Lutheran pastor, John Paul Hiester, and his first wife, Anna Eliza. He was named after John Paul's elder brother, the Rev. Henry T. Hiester Sr. --- an Episcopal priest. It's an odd, but not unheard of, clerical combination.

Henry Jr. was left motherless in 1850 at age five when Anna Eliza died shortly after giving birth to the last of the four children born after him, all of whom died in infancy. His only remaining sibling was an older sister, Anna Mary, who never married and who joined her brother in later life as housekeeper on at least two occasions when he settled down briefly.

About 1860, the Hiester brothers --- John Paul and Henry Sr. --- moved west from Pennsylvania and settled at Farm Ridge in the north central Illinois county of LaSalle. John Paul seems to have left the active ministry by this time to concentrate on farming. Henry Sr. would go on serve St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Farm Ridge, as vicar for more than 40 years. John Paul had remarried, to Lucy Ann, and begun a second family.

There are indications, however, that Henry Jr. and his sister had been farmed out to relatives in Berks County, Pennsylvania, following their mother's death and did not join their father and stepmother in Illinois until sometime later.

Whatever the case, the family had been reunited by 1870 when Henry, at age 24 and by occupation a school teacher, was enumerated as a member of the John Paul and Lucy Hiester household at Farm Ridge.

It seems likely that Henry also was an accomplished photographer by now and some have concluded that he had worked at the art in both Tonica, Illinois --- also in LaSalle County and not far from home --- and in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, before 1870. 

As the 1870s dawned, however, Henry was preparing to leave the Midwest behind for the time being, launching into new adventures, and most likely within a year after the census was taken, headed out with his equipment for Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Back in 2010, Daniel Kosharek, photo archivist at the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, began processing what is known as the Henry T. Hiester/Melander Brothers Collection of images, negatives and photographic ephemera. Part of the collection, which included a number of Hiester images, had been acquired during 1966. Paul Hiester, a nephew of Henry who still lived in LaSalle County, then had donated the family's collection of his uncle's work to the museum during 1974. Neither collection had been processed prior to 2010, however.

While sorting the collection, Kosharek came across what for the moment is Henry's most famous image,  a previously unknown photograph of the Navajo war chief Manuelito in three versions, photograph, original stereoscope card and glass-plate stereo negative. In the image Manuelito is seated beside Cayetanito, another Navajo war chief.

That's the image above, on the front page of the Winter 2010 issue of El Palacio, a magazine published by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. Inside is an article by Mary Anne Redding that contains the most detailed account I've found of Henry's life. Here's the biographical part of that article:

"Not much is known about the photographer who made this rare image. Henry T. Hiester (interchangeably spelled Heister) was one of Santa Fe's earliest studio photographers. The Hiester/Melander Collection at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives includes a book, The Photograph Manual: A Practical Treatise (D. Appleton, 1863), annotated in Hiester's handwriting, which establishes that he had studios in Tonica, Illinois, in 1860 (questionable since he would have been only 15 at the time) and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1867 (possible). He also had a studio in Chariton, Iowa, although the operating dates of that studio are currently unknown (actually, we do know).

"Hiester most likely came to Santa Fe in the summer of 1871 at the invitation of Dr. Enos Andrews, an established Santa Fe dentist, jeweler, and, oddly enough, a reputable librarian, who also operated a photo studio on the west side of the plaza in 1871. Dr. Andrews is thought to have invited Hiester to come to Santa Fe to replace photographer Nicholas Brown, who went on an extended tour of southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, for the year.

"Hiester operated a studio on the west side of the plaza between 1871 and 1874. According to photo historian Richard Rudisill, he is believed to have brought the first solar camera to New Mexico for making life-size portraits, most of which were hand-painted by John D. Howland, a Santa Fe artist. In the summer of 1874, Hiester made a boat trip down the Rio Grande with Howland, and that fall both opened studios in Mesilla, near present-day Las Cruces. He evidently worked as an interpreter to the Mescalero Apaches in 1875. Returning to Santa Fe, he opened another studio, this time on the south side of the plaza, which operated between 1876 and 1877 before he moved on to work in northeastern Arizona. According to Rudisill, Hiester's last known visit to New Mexico was in 1878."


Henry's name pops up now and then in issues of The Santa Fe New Mexican during the 1870s, so it's possible to track him up to a point in that way.

On Aug. 14, 1872, for example, The New Mexican reported that "Mr. Heister, the photographer, left yesterday with his field outfit for Silver City and a trip through the south generally. He goes prepared to make stereoscopic views and do custom work."

Henry's field outfit generally consisted of a horse- or mule-drawn wagon sometimes covered and sometimes not large enough to carry his equipment and his camping gear. There were no roadside motels in New Mexico at that time.

On Oct. 20, 1872, The New Mexican followed up with a report that "The Photograph Gallery is open again and Mr. Heister is prepared to suit customers with any style of picture they may desire. Go between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m."

"Mr. Heister has just stricken off stereoscopic views of the War Dance on Christmas," The New Mexican reported on Dec. 28, 1872, "and is offering them for sale. The whole scene is a very odd one and should be bought by all who wish to send a curiosity home. Go and see them at least."

On July 27, 1873, The New Mexican invited its readers to "Go and examine Mr. Heister's views of the La Bajada road, Placer Mountains and other parts of the neighborhood of Santa Fe. He has now one of the largest assortments of interesting views pertaining to all parts of the Territory ever exhibited in Santa Fe. Strangers should drop in and see them."


In regards to the solar camera, The New Mexican did indeed report a year later, on Sept. 12, 1873, that "Mr. Heister lately received a huge solar camera, and in consequence is prepared to take life sized pictures. This is the first camera of the kind ever seen in New Mexico and is therefore quite a curiosity. The instrument is in working order and well patronized."

The solar camera was a device similar to those used by many photographers somewhat later although with varying light sources. Using it, a glass negative was exposed at great magnification to produce a somewhat vague image on paper. The photographer if skilled enough or an independent artist then used that image as the base for those near life-size headshots of our ancestors that many of us have inherited.

On Oct. 3, 1873, The New Mexican provided a more detailed account of how the solar camera worked. And if you think current advertising hype is a bit overdone, consider this:

"Mr. Heister has his great solar camera in perfect working order. It sits like a huge mortar pointing directly at the sun, as if it threatened the destruction of that distant luminary, but instead of destroying, it creates; from a poor little picture scarcely visible, it produces a 'life-sized' image that is scarcely excelled by by even the original himself ---- when the skillful brush has touched it up it far exceeds the original, and that perhaps is why so many prefer the 'solar' or sunny pictures. Many faces called homely become beautiful and fascinating when lit up by sunlight --- either the sunlight of the day, or the sunlight of a skillful artist's brush --- especially in the latter sunlight. Beautiful people should have one of these pictures that they may look divine; homely people should have one that they may look beautiful. No picture is so impressive, no picture is so perfect, no picture is so satisfactory as a life-sized portrait. While they ornament the walls and add to the elegance of a well-furnished room, one seems in their midst to sit in the actual presence of dead and absent friends; as the loving eyes look down upon him from all sides, the sense of loneliness and solitude is vanished. Some of the work done in the gallery is really fine, and has given the very best satisfaction to those who have tried this new style of picture in Santa Fe."


The "retoucher" with whom Henry seems to have worked most often was also a good friend, John Dare "Jack" Howland, explorer, adventurer, prospector, Civil War veteran, Paris art student and artist, who also had a studio in Santa Fe.

During 1874, the two men built a flatboat and set off down the Rio Grande at Santo Domingo on an adventure during late August, sketching and taking photographs along the route. At the end of this journey, both set up studios for a time in Mesilla. A number of years later, this account of the journey was published as part of a lengthy story devoted to Howland's adventures in The Galveston (Texas) Daily News of June 26, 1888:

"They made the trip in the McGriffin in twenty days, and it's a thrilling story of their voyage through the dark and deep canyons of the Rio Grande, where no white man had yet ventured. At places the river widened out and then again dashed and roared in its narrow confines At Fort Craig, Major Whittemore warned them of the danger and a guide named Watts told them of a great cataract that would bring sure destruction. But Jack was persistent and on they went. Long before reaching this dangerous point they heard its angry roar, and in investigating saw that the river in a distance of 100 yards made a descent of 10 feet. the waters dashed and whirled against great boulders, the waves and spray in some places dashing six and seven feet high. They headed the McGriffin into this angry seething mass and with steady, cool nerves steered her through. Below they found men stationed and on the lookout for their bodies and the wrecked McGriffin, for all had predicted it certain death to attempt to go through those unknown canyons. But Jack Howland and Henry Heister made the trip in safety."


During 1875, after closing his studio in Mesilla, Henry found himself a teaching job at the new Mescalero Apache Agency. Records of the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Indian Affairs show that he was paid $800 for the stint and also that the paid agency staff --- some 40 miles from Fort Stanton in south central New Mexico --- included in addition to Henry an agent, an interpreter, a laborer, a clerk, a physician and a teamster.

It would appear that his many images of the Apache people date from this period in his career.

The New Mexican of Dec. 10, 1875, reported that "Mr. Heister is in the city from the new Mescalero Apache agency located at Bigger's mill about forty miles west of Fort Stanton; he reports all quiet on the reservation."

After completing his term of service among the Apaches, Henry seems to have re-established a studio in Santa Fe, then after a year perhaps headed out for new adventures and in search of new subject material in northeast Arizona. The final report about him in the New Mexican apparently was made during 1878.

We have no idea what Henry did after that --- although he most certainly was taking photographs wherever he was.

But by June of 1880 he was back in Illinois, profession this time given as "photographer," living with his father, stepmother and siblings at Farm Ridge. He had left home 10 years earlier a young man and now, after many adventures creative and otherwise in New Mexico, he was approaching middle age.

To be continued.

No comments: