Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

Ansel Adams

Motives & Opportunity

More on Adams

            In 1927 Adams had a life's work of 17 photos good enough for the portfolio Albert Bender had obligingly offered to fund for Adams.  Adams was clumsy and without social skills.  

           I learned it was an 'open secret' that Ansel had torched the Pillsbury Studio from Fred Smart, a fellow activist, who knew one of Adam's helpers.  Fred reported that the fellow said they made jokes about it.  

           Dad had finally decided shortly before his death he had to let Virginia know he was no longer going to keep silent on what he had confronted her and Ansel with in 1928.  Dad took keeping his word seriously and believed, with all sincerity, the two of them had been truthful.  He did not realize they had lied until close to the end of his life.  In 1987 Dad had turned over to me, his youngest daughter, the job of discovering why Arthur C. Pillsbury was disappearing from history and to restore his work to its rightful place.  I began work on a biography, which was what Dad thought would be needed.  This was slow doing.  As Dad had told me, Grandfather had disappeared.   The Internet would change that. 

             In November of 1990 Dad called me and said, "Don't say anything.  Just listen."  I did.  That story begins  HERE  and continues through the next,  PAGE 3 of the Century Story

          As you read the Adams Time Line you see he was working part time for Arthur C. Pillsbury and had few prospects for a career from 1917 - 1927.  He was not emotionally normal.  It has been suggested he suffered from Asberger's Syndrome.   

          His motive for setting the fire in the Pillsbury Studio was the opportunity this opened to him for a career for which he was otherwise unprepared.  His marriage to Virginia Rose Best came about because she needed an in-house photographer to enable her to keep the studio which she would inherit from her father, Harry Best.  

        By 1926 Mather was confident he would be able to make the National Parks economically viable by extracting money from concessionaires and using the profits from middle-class hospitality to pay for the five star destinations, such as the Ahwahnee, he would build for his fellow elites. 

        Mather had persuaded J. Desmond to be  the president of the company.  Mather invested heavily in the Desmond-lead business. This was self-dealing, a felony. The cost of building multiple luxury destinations bankrupted the Desmond Company.  The struggle did not end until Mather had managed to get rid of Foster Curry, who would have refused to merge the two companies.  It is likely this was so because the financial insolvency of the Yosemite Park Company was known. Don Tresidder married Mary Curry in 1920 becoming the agent of this effective theft of the company which, per Mather's wishes, eliminated the Curry's from Yosemite.   Tresidder oversaw the merger and became the Baron of Yosemite, doing Mather's will. 
       It is hard to imagine any member of the Curry family actually consenting to the merger. Even though they were not aware of the self-dealing fraud being perpetrated by Msther they knew and saw the impact of their husband and father.  One should remember David Curry did not approve of Don Tresidder.  His reasons could have been more substantial than we have guessed.  

      Two non-Currys  wrested from the hands of Foster Curry after Mather caused the death of its founder, David Curry. Mary Curry was shy.  Marjory was two years younger than Mary. Marjory's husband partnered with Tresidder for about a year and was then dumped, along with Marjory, causing a permanent rupture in the family, continuing to this day.

Don Tresidder married Mary Curry in 1920 becoming the agent of this effective theft of the company which, per Mather's wishes, eliminated the Curry's from Yosemite.  

      Tresidder oversaw the merger, ending up in complete control, becaming the Baron of Yosemite.  Curry was gone, exactly what Mather wanted.  ​The rupture in the Curry family continues to this day.

The Adams  Co-Conspirators

Virginia Best Adams 
           Virginia experienced the early excitement of sitting on the lap of Teddy Roosevelt and visitng Paris and with her father, Harry Cassie Best, an artist.  The Best Studio in Yosemite was small and its profits limited.  Virginia grew up with the Pillsbury children, especially Grace, two years older than herself,  and Arthur, who was nine months younger than herself.  Narrative

            Virginia's mother died in 1920, when she was 16.  She immediately began working to keep the Best Studio working and also worked, when she could, at the Pillsbury Studio a few staps down the road.  Knowing that her prospects for retaining the Best  Studio in Yosemite were low unless she found a photographer she began paying more attention to Arthur F. Pillsbury, then running the post-card machine and expected by those in Yosemite Village to inherit the operation in Yosemite.   But this did not happen.  Arthur F. went off to Stanford and began studies for a PhD in Civil Engineering. In 1933 he would marry a young woman majoring in Theoretical Math at UC Berkeley. 
             Virginia Best  was neither an artist or a photographer. She would continue to run the Best Studio, marry Ansel Adams while ensuring he had no ownership in the operation.  It was a marriage of mutual need and greed, not desire or love, which is clear from the way Ansel lived his life without comment or complaint from Virginia.  Ansel, by reports of his children was also a failure as a father.  It is likely he did not think this role was part of the  deal he had cut.  

Steve Douglas Harrison 
      More of the story is here, along with his work history and associations.  His motivations were enormous and his fraud paid off.