Saturday, April 11, 2015

Photo of drawing of Guert Gansevoort

Guert Gansevoort
1968 Photo by Werner Lenggenhager
State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives
Digital Archives,
On Tumblr I see guertgan made a blog avatar from this photo. That was last year, 2014. Where's Where's Guert Gan?

Yes, guertgan ("Unreasonably defensive of Guert Gansevoort since 2014") was all over this one.

According to the notes online at Washington State Archives-Digital Archives, the photograph shows
"Captain Guert Ganevoort, who commanded the 'Decatur' during the Indian attack on Seattle; from a miniature painted on ivory while he was 30 - on verso."
Well! I was just reading Wilson Heflin who points out in Herman Melville's Whaling Years how Herman Melville's cousin Guert Gansevoort (1812-1868) "in physical appearance much resembled Herman." The Battle of Seattle happened in 1856 when Guert commanded the sloop Decatur. However, if the archival note is right about Guert's age being 30, the portrait shows Guert in about 1842, the year of the controversial and still-notorious Somers mutiny. Though he looks more like 20, doesn't he?

Hershel Parker in Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative reflects on Guert's 1841 visit to Lansingburgh when Herman was gone a-whaling:
On one particular visit, in 1841, everyone had been struck by Guert's resemblance to Herman. Then Augusta wrote to Allan (in a letter now in the Berkshire Athenaeum): "he looks very much like Herman, we all noticed it." At that time Guert himself had expressed his own concern, born of long nautical experience ("oh how he blames Herman for going to sea"). --Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, 341-2 
If this really is Guert Gansevoort in 1842, we can better imagine now how Herman Melville looked the year he arrived at Nukahiva aboard the whaleship Acushnet. Probably ought to brush in a beard.

And there's plenty more to investigate, as ever. For a start, who has that ivory miniature?

In the meantime, here's to the photographer and his generous heirs with profound gratitude. Cheers!

Biographical Note on Werner Lenggenhager

Werner Lenggenhager (1899-1988) was a Swiss immigrant, a Boeing employee, and a hobby photographer who made it his life's work to create a photographic record of Seattle's architecture, monuments, and scenery. Over the course of his life, Lenggenhager gave nearly 30,000 prints of his photographs to The Seattle Public Library. The Library encouraged him in his photographic efforts, at times paying him for his contributions, and often sending letters of support to locations he was interested in photographing. However, Lenggenhager undertook the majority of his photography at his own personal expense. He visited the World's Fair on weekends, paying his own admission until City Librarian Willard O. Youngs wrote to Century 21 Exposition General Manager Ewen Dingwall on Lenggenhager's behalf, asking for a complimentary pass to the Fair. (The request was granted.) 

Smaller collections of Lenggenhager's photographs are also held by the Washington State Archives, the University of Washington Libraries, the Museum of History and Industry, and other institutions. He died in 1988, and for many years The Seattle Public Library's prints were held and preserved by the Library but not made readily accessible. In 2010, his heirs generously donated the copyright of these photos to The Seattle Public Library, making it possible for the Library to digitize and display the photos online. This collection of his photos of the Century 21 Exposition is a small piece of a significant photographic record of Seattle history. As Lenggenhager explained to the Seattle Times in 1955, "Some persons contribute time to charitable causes. My pictures are my small contribution to the city."
 --The Seattle Public Library

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