Beyond your basic Bierstadts
The core of the Bancroft’s pictorial collection enriches a ‘structured tour’ of the American West
| 26 January 2005
In turning the pages of a new book based on key holdings in the Bancroft Library, readers are launched on ocean voyages, sent down the Chagres River in Panama, and taken to Gold Rush camps, boomtowns, and a Yosemite Valley untouched by tourists.
Drawn West: Selections from the Robert B. Honeyman Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western Art and Americana — just published by Heyday Books — offers an intriguing, sometimes humorous, and often breathtaking glimpse of the 2,300-item collection of paintings, watercolors, handbills, lithographs, music sheets, and more. The collection depicts the romanticized, often brutal and commercialized exploration and settlement of California and the West.
Jack von Euw, pictorial curator for the Bancroft Library, co-authored the book with writer Genoa Shepley of Tucson. Drawn West is less a history book than “a structured tour” of one of the best visual collections of Western Americana and art, he says.
“The overall intent is to elucidate the way the development of the West, California in particular, was depicted by explorers, early immigrants, gold seekers, and artists,” says von Euw. “It is a truly democratic collection, because you will find artistically significant paintings of California, such as the first known drawings of Yosemite, along with illustrations produced for mass consumption, such as lithographs by Currier and Ives, clipper-ship cards advertising fast travel from the East to the West coasts, and letter sheets depicting events ranging from gold mining to public hangings.”
Trained as an engineer, Honeyman (1897-1987) amassed a significant collection of books by the age of 32. He dedicated part of his Rancho Los Cerritos home near Mission San Juan Capistrano as a museum to house the collection that was purchased in 1963 for $550,000 by the Friends of the Bancroft and the UC Board of Regents.
In 1969, Bancroft curator Joseph Baird compiled a catalog of the collection, but it was incomplete. In 1996, the Bancroft applied for state funds to create a complete online inventory of the Honeyman materials. Today the collection’s Internet incarnation (bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/honeyman.html) is available to scholars and researchers, and parts have become a feature of the history curricula in primary and secondary schools.
The volume — the first publication about the Honeyman Collection and the first to be produced by the Bancroft Library with materials from a single collection — contains 124 color and mostly full-page images. A few images are widely known, iconic symbols of westward migration, but most have never been reproduced, says von Euw, who adds: “When you buy this book, you take a piece of the Bancroft with you.”
Drawn West sells for $39.95. To order online, visit heydaybooks.com/public/new.html.