Friday, October 23, 2009

Arty Farty Friday ~ William Henry Jackson

Nowadays tourists flock to the American West and Yellowstone, cameras at the ready, from the most expensive Nikons to cheapo pocket models. Once upon a time though, people of the eastern states and Europe had little or no idea of the wonders of the West. Any sketches of western scenes, geysers, rock formations, hidden canyons etc were often thought to be fanciful exaggerations. William Henry Jackson's photography in the region changed all that, and was instrumental in persuading Congress in 1872 to establish Yellowstone as the United States' first National Park .

Jackson was drawn to artistic pursuits from an early age; he painted in childhood, later worked as a photographic retoucher, and served as a staff artist in the 12th Vermont Infantry, for the Union army in 1862. After the war, in 1867, he opened the Jackson Brothers studio, with his brother Edward in Omaha, Nebraska. Two years later he photographed along the newly opened Union Pacific Railroad.

William Henry Jackson was a true pioneer in his field something of an adventurer as well. As a professional photographer of the 1870s he had the ability to do everything: composing, focusing and exposing the picture, to sensitizing the plate and developing it. Heavy equipment needed hauling to the scenes: huge cameras, glass plates for negatives, lenses and tripods, chemicals and a tent to use as a darkroom. It was a far cry from today's digital photography!

In 1870 Jackson began an eight-year assignment as official photographer to the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of Ferdinand V. Hayden, producing important views of the grandeur of states in the American West. He went on to become a photographic publisher and entrepreneur in Denver, specializing in commissioned landscapes for the railroad. In 1893 Jackson was the official photographer for the World's Columbian Exposition.

In later life he reverted to painting; his vast collection of memories must have provided ample inspiration. He lived to the grand old age of 99.

What can we see from William Henry Jackson's natal chart then? A few words in the above serve as clues. Pioneer? Aries. Photography? Pisces/Neptune. Adventure and travel? Sagittarius. Breaking new ground? Uranus/Aquarius.

It's all there! Sun in pioneering Aries, along with Pluto. Sun in Aries is trine Mars in Sagittarius. The pioneer, the drive (Mars) and the traveller combine. Venus planet of the arts, Mercury (communication), and Uranus (breaking new ground) all lie in Pisces, ruled by Neptune, the photography planet. Nextdoor in Aquarius we find Neptune and Jupiter conjoined - the ruling planets of photography and travel/expansion in groundbreaking Aquarius, blended together and reflecting once again what we've seen from the foregoing sentences.

Sometimes natal astrology can be breathtakingly accurate!

Saturn, planet of structure and work, lies in its home sign of Capricorn and in helpful sextile aspect to Mercury and Uranus - bringing the discipline of hard work into what could otherwise have been a rather haphazard and flighty scene, likely to achieve little of value.

Without a time of birth it's not possible to know the Moon's degree, but unless Jackson was born before 1am Moon would have been in flexible Gemini. That's a good fit for his versatility and willingness to bend his talents in different directions, taking on a variety of projects as need dictated.

Man With Sheepskin (in India)

Mount Moran


In the Rockies

The Hayden Survey Party

One of WHJ's paintings: Chimney Rock & North Platte River (we saw this scene, minus wagons, on our last trip!)

Portrait of two Cheyenne

Shoshone family at South Pass, 1870.

More information at


Laura said...

Wow! What amazing paintings. He was clearly an extremely talented man and will never be forgotten i am sure.

Twilight said...

Hi Laura! Yes, he'd have been such an interesting guy to chat with too!

anyjazz said...

This is a good piece. For those of us who thought that Ansel Adams was the beginning and end of landscape photographers, it is a revelation.

Twilight said...

Anyjazz~~ Glad it appealed to you.
He and Ansel Adams are cut from the same cloth, aren't they! The Adams name, for some reason gets more attention.

Samantha said...

I was wondering if I could use the painting for a school project on Chimney Rock. I am required to give an art piece, and I can't seem to find the original painting I was going to use.

If I could, do you have any information on this painting? Such as how it was made, when, etc.

Thank you!

Twilight said...

Hi Samantha ~~~ I'm sure it would be alright for you to use a copy of the painting for a school project. As far as I know the only taboo is using copyrighted material such as paintings, written material or music for commercial gain. Use for educational purposes is allowed, I think.

I don't know much about this painting, but there's some information on the background circumstance of how Jackson came to paint it here.

Good luck with the project.

Samantha said...

Thanks! =) Just wanted to check copyrights