Early Days in California: William Keith, John Muir, and Joseph LeConte

January 15 – May 21, 2005

In the last half of the 19th century, William Keith, a landscape painter, John Muir, a botanist, glaciologist, and writer, and Joseph LeConte, a medical doctor, geologist, educator and scientist combined efforts to publicize and preserve scenic California. Each in his own way contributed significantly. Keith had met Muir in Yosemite Valley in 1872 and traveled the state, often guided by Muir, to create landscapes that publicized California's beauty. Muir studied and published on all aspects of California nature including the birds, plants, trees, streams, forests, and glacial history. LeConte traveled eleven times to the Sierra between 1872 and 1901, kept extensive journals, and published articles and books on subjects ranging from glaciation to human eyesight to the relationship between science and religious thought. All three men were living in the San Francisco Bay area with their families.


In 1889 Muir, Keith, and LeConte began meeting informally in Keith's San Francisco studio with Warren Olney to discuss "the mountains." Keith had introduced Olney, a lawyer, to Muir that year. Eventually the meetings moved to Olney's more spacious law office in San Francisco, and the group expanded to include J. H. Senger, William Dallam Armes, Cornelius Beach Bradley, David Starr Jordan and John C. Branner. In May 1892 the group met to organize an alpine club, which they named The Sierra Club.


The Saint Mary's exhibit features Keith paintings to illustrate the travels and triumphs of the trio. Also shown are inscribed first editions of Muir's "Mountains of California" and "The Yosemite" and a rare first edition of LeConte's 1870 "Journal of Ramblings through the High Sierra."


Three William Keith California landscapes owned by Joseph LeConte and his family are on loan to the exhibit from John and Lorraine LeConte. John is a great-grandson of Joseph LeConte and a grandson of Joseph N. LeConte. Known as "Little Joe," Joseph N. explored the Sierra extensively, was on the Sierra Club board for 42 years and was Club President from 1915-1917. John is a U.S. Navy veteran and has been a C.P.A. for 30 years. Lorraine has had a 25-year health care career. John and Lorraine live in Agoura Hills, California.


Two William Keith California landscapes are on loan to the exhibit from Bob and Midge Binnewies. Following graduation in 1959 from Colorado State University, Bob began his public service career as a Park Ranger in Yellowstone National Park. During a career that spanned the next four decades, his responsibilities included service as Executive Director of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Vice President of the National Audubon Society, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, and Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Bob's book, Palisades, 100,000 Acres in 100 Years, was published in 2001. The book chronicles 20th century efforts in the densely populated New York-New Jersey metropolitan region to successfully conserve land through the unique structure of a corporate-style government commission. Midge researched the material for the /Palisades /book, and earlier co-authored A History of Barlett's Island, Mount Desert, Maine, a project supported by Mrs. David Rockefeller. Bob currently serves on the Boards of the Santa Lucia Conservancy, California, and the Los Luceros Foundation, New Mexico. In 2002 the Secretary of the Interior appointed him as an Advisor for the Carrizo Plains National Monument. Bob and Midge live in Ashland, Oregon.


** Note: The Keith Room will be closed during installation of temporary exhibitions in the main galleries from Feb. 28 to Mar. 19 and again from Apr. 25 to May 3.

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Contact: Heidi Donner (925) 631-4069 or hdonner@stmarys-ca.edu