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 Adelaide Marquand Hanscom Leeson  (1876 - 1931)



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Lived/Active: California/Oregon      Known for: photography illustrating literature, painting, design

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Ad Code: 4
Adelaide Marquand Hanscom
An example of work by Adelaide Marquand Hanscom Leeson
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Adelaide Hanscom Leeson was an early 20th-century artist and photographer who published some of the first books using photography to illustrate literary works. Born in Empire City, Oregon, Hanscom was a major figure among West Coast photo-secessionists. She is probably best known for her photographic illustrations of the book, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam published in 1905. It was reprinted in a number of popular editions through 1922, including a color version in 1912.

Hanscom was named after Adelaide Marquand, an early proponent of universal suffrage. Marquand's husband, Henry, was a business associate of Meldon Hanscom (young Adelaide's father), and later publisher of the Berkeley Advocate. Henry was co-editor of the Advocate with his wife, the adult Adelaide, who remained a family friend and an influence on Hanscom for many years thereafter.

Hanscom began creating art when she was a teenager and later studied art and design at the University of California. She began to take photographs while at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Her classmates, Emily Pitchford and Laura Adams, established their own studio, and by working with them, Hanscom expanded what she learned about photography while at school. Adelaide is also known to have spent time with photographer Anne Brigman and is thought to have learned some of her printing techniques from Brigman as well.

By 1900, Hanscom's work was entirely devoted to photography. She opened her own studio in partnership with Blanch Cumming in downtown San Francisco. Hanscom and Cumming produced the first edition of the lavishly illustrated Rubaiyat in 1905. Hanscom heavily manipulated her glass plates to affect a painterly, pictorialist style. Her images in this book are allegorical tableaux, featuring figures in ancient costume, enacting parts of Khayyam's verse. The first edition was printed on at least two different types of tissue, one limp and thin, and the other stiff and parchment-like.  The book was published in at least three smaller sizes, all with halftones, sometimes in color.

In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed Hanscom's entire studio, including her Rubaiyat negatives and most of her prints. Since the area in San Francisco where she lived and worked was now uninhabitable, she packed her few remaining belongings and moved to Seattle. Hanscom set up a studio with photographer Gertrude Wilson, and for the next five years she did commercial portrait works for prominent families in the area, her photographs appearing in the society pages of Seattle's newspaper.

In 1907, a contest was held to design the logo for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. More than 150 of America's best artists and designers competed for the $500 prize and by unanimous vote, the publicity committee selected Hanscom's design as the winner. The logo, in the Arts and Crafts movement style, portrayed three women representing Seattle (right), Alaska (middle) and "the Orient" (left) all extending their hands to each other while holding representations of each area's economic strengths (respectively, railroad commerce, mineral resources and shipping commerce).

Hanscom married British mining engineer and ex-Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Arthur Gerald Leeson in 1908. Soon after they moved to the area near Douglas, Alaska, for her husband's work on the Treadwell gold mine. They remained there for the next three years, although both Hanscom and her husband made yearly trips to Seattle and other areas outside of Alaska. In 1909 Hanscom spent several months in San Francisco after giving birth to a son, Gerald. During this time, most of her photographic work stopped while she supported her husband and raised their son. In 1911 the family moved to Danville, California, where her husband took up farming. Hanscom was able to set up a darkroom and resume her work. She provided similar Pictorialist style photographs for an edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese. The first edition included twenty tipped-in photogravures and was followed by two additional editions due to its popularity.

In 1916, her husband, Gerald, enlisted in the Canadian Army in order to fight in World War I. He left for Europe with very little notice and, within a few weeks, he was killed in action. The combination of that loss and her father's death three years later caused Adelaide to fall into a deep depression. She became irrational at times and was in and out of mental institutions. Hanscom never resumed her photographic work, and, as one writer noted, "the remaining sixteen years of her life seem to have been a feckless series of wanderings with her children in tow." She moved briefly to England to be near her dead husband's relatives, but she eventually returned to California and lived with her daughter. In November 1931, Adelaide was killed by a hit-and-run driver while getting off of a trolley in Pasadena, California. For most of the twentieth century, like so many early female artists and photographers, her work was forgotten, but recently she is again being recognized for her  creativity, beauty and grace.

"Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, Pictorial Photographer", Women Out West: Art Edge of America,

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Empire City, OR on Nov. 24, 1876, Adelaide's family, the Hanscoms, moved to California in 1881. About 1892 Adelaide began her art studies in San Francisco at the Mark Hopkins Institute where she excelled at miniature painting and design. She commuted each day by ferry from her home in Berkeley where she taught drawing in the public schools for several years.

During this time she was also working with photography and took over Laura Adams' studio in the Flood Bldg in 1902. After this time her artistic energies were mostly devoted to photography. In 1907 her design of the medallion for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo was awarded a cash prize.

In 1908 she married Arthur Leeson, a mining engineer. After his death in WWI, her mental health suffered. She began to hear voices, was committed to Napa State Hospital, and attempted suicide.

The artist was fatally struck by an automobile in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 1931.

California State Fair, 1892-1900; Mechanics' Institute (SF), 1897 (Peaches), 1899 (portraits on ivory); San Francisco Art Association, 1890s; Channing Club (Berkeley), 1901 (2nd prize, photography); Guild of Arts & Crafts (SF), 1906; Berkeley Art Association, 1908 (photographs).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
City Directory; Death record.
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.

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