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By Peter E. Palmquist

Stereo World, Vol. 12, No. 3, Jul./Aug. 1985, pp. 38-39.
Copyright © 1985 by the National Stereoscopic Association, Inc.

Glenn Gardner Willumson, Alfred A. Hart: Photographer of the Transcontinental Railroad, unpublished MA Thesis in Art History, University of California, Davis, 1984.

Portrait photograph of Alfred A. Hart from the Glenn Willumson Collection
Alfred A. Hart,
Courtesy private collection.

When you think of Western railroads you cannot avoid remembering the Central Pacific, and the illustrious Photographer who captured its early growth so eloquently. Through his work on the C. P. R. R., Alfred A. Hart (1816-1908), has become one of Western stereophotography's most respected imagemakers.

Although we know Hart's photographs very well, his life has been maddeningly obscure. What did he look like? What were his origins? How did he come to photography? When did he begin and end his C. P. R. R. work? What happened to him in later life? Various writers, for instance, have spoken sadly of his untimely death in 1869. This death date provided a plausible excuse for the fact that his negatives passed into the hands of C. E. Watkins who published them for many years.

Glenn Willumson has tackled these questions with vigor. His answers are oftimes as surprising as they are illuminating. Hart died in 1908, not 1869. Hart had a real childhood (son of a silversmith in Norwich, Connecticut), and a bonafide trade as a portrait and panorama painter. Can you imagine our A. A. Hart painting a panorama called New Testament and Scenes from the Holy Land? Hart did this in 1852.

Hart 494
"Snow Shoes" No. 494 by Alfred A. Hart for the Central Pacific Railroad,
The ornate logo on the back reads "Scenes in the Sierra Nevada
Mountains for the stereoscope and album.
Alfred A. Hart, Artist, Sacramento."
Stanford University collection.

His first photographic contact occurred during a partnership with daguerreotypist named H. H. Bartlett in Hartford, Connecticut. This association began about 1857 and lasted until about 1860. Next, a move to Cleveland, Ohio, where he had an art store.

By January 1866 (and probably earlier) he was already involved with the C. P. R. R. in California. Willumson traced the development of photography for the firm through the business records of the railroad. Here he found information showing that the company purchased negatives directly from Hart, for example. He was involved with the C. P. R. R. until 1869.

Hart was also a publisher. In 1869 he published The Traveler's Map of the Central Pacific Railroad of California and its connections from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake ... (see my article on the subject in Stereo World, January /February 1980), and in 1870 a guide book called A Traveler's Own Book.

Willumson's study reveals many significant insights in Hart's role as a documentary photographer; "He was a gifted artist using the medium of photography." Not surprisingly, he found that Hart had created a much larger body of work than had been previously credited to him, and that his work was published by Lawrence & Houseworth as well as Watkins. He also did views in Yosemite and San Francisco.

Gov. Stanford Locomotive
The locomotive Gov. Stanford, photographed by Hart
and published by Whitney & Paradise, New York.
Stanford University collection.

Included in Willumson's thesis is a chronology of Hart's life, a checklist of his paintings and photographs and a useful bibliography. The work is nearly 180 pages in length and is nicely illustrated. He also has several portraits of Hart, one of which is reproduced here.

While Willumson's study is not the final word on A. A. Hart, he has taken a giant step towards bringing Hart into focus as an important Western photographer. This new research is an essential reference for anyone concerned with the greater aspects of Western railroad photography, and life in the nineteenth century arts.

Willumson [was] a graduate student working towards a Ph.D. in photographic history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His Hart thesis is available through interlibrary loan from the University of California, Davis, CA library. A copy is also located at the Sacramento Railroad Museum. For additional details contact: Glenn Willumson.

NSA logo
Courtesy of the National Stereoscopic Association, Mary Ann Sell, President, and Don Gibbs, Manager, Stereo World back issues. Reproduced by permission.

Also see: "Alfred Hart: Photographer of the Central Pacific Railroad." by Glenn L. Willumson. History of Photography (London), (January/March, 1988), Volume 12, No. 1, pp. 61-75.

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