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 Thomas Almond Ayres  (1816 - 1858)

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Lived/Active: California/New Jersey      Known for: western landscape sketching, panorama, illustrator

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Woodbridge, New Jersey in 1816, Thomas Ayres worked as a draftsman in St. Paul with an engineering firm before arriving in California in the Gold Rush of 1849. After a short time at the mines, he soon abandoned his pursuit of gold and began traveling throughout the interior of California making sketches and drawings in charcoal and graphite.

In 1855 he was hired by James Mason Hutchings, a San Francisco journalist, to join the first organized tourist party ever to visit Yosemite.  His sketches of the valley were used as illustrations in Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine.  His long panorama of Yosemite, crossing the Isthmus of Panama, and gold mining activities had a long run at McNulty's Hall in Sacramento.

Ayres' sketches were exhibited in New York City at the American Art Union in 1857. In that year he was hired by Harper's Illustrated Weekly to make a series of sketches of California for their magazine.  He began in San Diego and Los Angeles.  Having accomplished his mission, he boarded a clipper ship, the Laura Bevan, at San Pedro harbor bound for San Francisco and, during a storm at sea on April 26, 1858, the ship sank taking with it all passengers.

Works by this artist are both rare and historically important.  Most of his work is done in black chalk on marbleized paper.

Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley)
Yosemite Nat’l Park Museum
De Young Museum
Society of California Pioneers
Oakland Museum
New York Public Library
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
California Historical Society Quarterly, Sept. 1941; Honeyman Collection cat.; Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); California on Stone (Peters); New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); California Pictorial (Van Nostrand & Coulter); Views of Yosemite; First 100 Years of Painting in California (J. Van Nostrand); Artists of the American West (Samuels); Art of the Gold Rush; Daily Alta California, 5-27-1858 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A landscape painter and native of New Jersey, Thomas Ayres went West in 1840 and spent the next seven years in California, traveling widely throughout the state.  In July, 1855, he was with the first party to visit Yosemite Valley, and for two days, he sketched the earliest known views of that area.  His companion was James Mason Hutchings, writer and publisher beginning 1856 of California Magazine, and first promoter of Yosemite.  Hutchings published Ayres' drawings in the magazine and then produced a large lithograph of Yosemite Falls.  Other than Ayres' drawings published by Hutchings, few early sketches of the park survive.

Ayres also painted a panorama, which had a long showing at McNulty's Hall in Sacramento.

In 1857, he returned to the East and exhibited in New York City and was hired by Harper's to illustrate a series of articles on California.  In 1858, he did a sketching tour in southern California, but on his way back to San Francisco, drowned in a clipper ship accident on April 26, 1858.

Sources include:
Amy Scott, Art of an American Icon---Yosemite, p.31
Groce and Wallace, Dictionary of Artists in America

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