Press Release – Cañon City, Colorado
April 20, 2023
The Western Pioneer myth often evokes vivid images of stoic cowboys, grizzled miners, and rugged ranch hands. Working quietly in the background of the settling of the American West, however, were the women and children who followed in the wake of manifest destiny and entrepreneurial ideology. Prepared or not, families bore the demands of a rustic, often difficult life in places that could seem desolate and cut off from the rest of the world. But they were also places of atypical beauty and determination. Images of this hidden aspect of settlement are few, but an intriguing historic collection of locally-captured images by Eugenia Kennicott will be on display at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Cañon City this month for the ‘Under the Western Sky’ art show, offering a glimpse into a time gone by.
In 1899, fifteen-year-old Eugenia Kennicott received a camera for her birthday. Taking images in and around her home and ranch, then developing the plates in a special room that her father constructed for her, Eugenia created images that show the oft-hidden aspects of domestic life at the turn of the century. She and her sister attended school in nearby Ula (pronounced “U-lay”) three months of the year, rode horses with the neighbor children, completed housework, took music lessons, journeyed to alpine lakes, and visited neighboring ranches – including the famed Beckwith Ranch – around the valley. Her images show the creativity, imagination, and industry with which children carried out their lives. Their family dog, Penny, features in a few photos, as does their horse, and several friends. Eugenia composes her images with fanciful, theatrical elements and steadfast gazes that belie the passing of a century. Experimenting with composition, lighting, and timing, Eugenia was able to leave behind a collection of remarkable and artistically poignant images. Rarely on display, the images will be part of the larger art show at the Fremont Center for the Arts. Director Kevin Cundiff notes that the FCA was interested in displaying the historic images. “It’s important to remember and acknowledge the pioneer(s) that have forged our communities(s),” Cundiff says. “We’re also excited to honor the 150th anniversary of the Fremont County Rodeo, and this ties into that history perfectly.”
The daughter of rancher Frank Kennicott and Mary Azuba Kennicott, Eugenia spent her early life in the Wet Mountain Valley – between the towering peaks of the Wet and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Ranges. Her father, like many ranchers, staked a claim on the fertile land that was also the ancestral home of generations of Ute, Arapaho, Pawnee, and Apache people. At the age of two, Eugenia’s life was altered when she was struck by spinal tuberculosis. Chronic pain and a modified posture made certain activities difficult for the young photographer, but she was nonetheless able to produce over 63 photographic plates throughout her teen years before moving with her mother and sister, Anna, to Cañon City part-time to attend high school. These images, now in the possession of History Colorado, were donated by the Kennicott family. Together with Anna’s diary, published in 1993 by Gertrude Schooley (Anna’s daughter), the combined resources offer viewers a different perspective on Western settlement.
The community is invited to view a selection of Eugenia’s photographs at a special showing at the Fremont Center for the Arts through the month of May. In combination with the ‘Under the Western Sky’ community art show, the opening will be on Friday, May 5 from 4:30-7:30 pm. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.
Written by Ashlee Sack.
For additional information, please contact Ashlee at 719-248-6376.
Anna Kennicott mops floor, 1883-1943. History Colorado. Accession # 98.273.7.
Kennicott Family Plot in the Ula Cemetery near Westcliffe, Colorado, 2022.