Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

  The Pillsbury Box slips through Harrison’s fingers  

           After writing the letter to Rell Francis and ascertaining that at least part of the collection was now at BYU, Steve Harrison writes to Dennis Rowley, head of Archives and Manuscripts for the Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, asking about the movies, which were included in the collection.  Rowley responds on February 16th, “I have received your letter of February 8 inquiring as to the contents of our Pillsbury collection.”  Harrison and the Adams family continue their covert campaign to acquire at least the remaining Pillsbury Box, which they have been told contains films.  Consider why they may particularly want to obtain Pillsbury films. 
        On January 26th, 1979, Dr. Pillsbury writes another letter to Harrison, responding to Harrison’s letter of January 22nd.  The letter begins with thanks for Harrison’s letter and evades mentioning AEtheline more than is necessary.  Dr. Pillsbury’s love for his father had included tolerance for the woman all three children had come to loath while living with her.  AC married Aetheline Banfield Deuel in the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, having known about her only that she had been a very pretty girl he had seen on occasion while living in Auburn, CA as a young man.  AC was a romantic and marrying someone after you save their life, is nothing if not romantic.  The reality probably began to dawn when he introduced his new wife to his mother, Dr. Harriet Foster Pillsbury, M.D. 
               The six months of the year spent living with her each year, had not been pleasant for the three children AC adopted, despite being, in effect, paid to have then in the house six months of the year.  Aetheline refused to adopt them but wrote a letter to the court giving permission for AC to adopt them,  yet never treated them as anything but a nuisance.  AEtheline demanded that she be given the jewelry which had belonged to the children’s mother, appropriated Grace’s piano for her son by her first marriage, and ordered the children to wait on her and clean the house. Her son, who her husband, AC,  refused to adopt, would then

L - R: Arthur F. (Dr. Pillsbury), Grace, and Ernest.  This photo was loaned to Shirley Sargent for her last book, "Enchanted Childhoods"

have been in his early twenties.   Aetheline's son, Arthur Deuel, physically bullied the children.  But he never came to Yosemite, and AEtheline, who disliked roughing it, came only rarely.  This appears to be part of the agreement AC made with Aetheline.  
                  In 1900, AC's brother, Dr. Ernest S. Pillsbury, M.D., and his wife, Sylvia, and their two oldest children had relocated to Los Angeles.  There, Drs. Harlin and Harriet resided with their older son, Dr. Ernest and his family for parts of the year but also spending time with a cousin, Mary Abigail Pillsbury Thurman and her husband, Sylvanus Thurman in Redlands, CA.   When AC also visited the Thurmans, across  Southern California he took panoramas and stills for postcards and other contract work for newspapers, magazines, and publishers.    
        This is where Drs. Harriet and Harlin were during the 1906 Earthquake when AC hit the ground grabbing all his cameras, including the panoramic, and headed for San Francisco from Oakland.  

           AC's parents had long since accepted that their youngest son was committed to goals they could approve of, but in which they could not participate.  Recognizing his genius, they supported him absolutely.  Dr. Harlin died in 1907 at the Pillsbury home in Hollywood.
                   The family welcomed their youngest son when he came to visit, but did not attempt to visit him in Oakland after his marriage.   

The Harrison Correspondence Continues 

                 On February 8th, 1979 Harrison sits down and writes another letter to Dr. Pillsbury.  He is clearly excited.  He appears to enjoy acting as a double agent, ensuring Dr. Pillsbury remains ignorant as he acts out the part of a reputable and experienced writer who is financially well enough heeled to pay for a major collection.    Again, he does not mention the Collection at BYU or the box in the possession of Rell Francis.  He has not mentioned working and appears to be spending his time working on the acquisition of the Pillsbury Box while finalizing work on the article he is preparing for The Alaska Journal.
                  Since Harrison is not by any means wealthy, one must ask how he affords to spend his time in this way.  He does not mention a source of income, but we know from his early correspondence with Dr. Pillsbury he abruptly dropped contact when he had obtained the information Dr. Pillsbury had not shared the information from Tompkins.  He has gone over the collections of Pillsbury photos at the Yosemite Research Library, plans to visit Grace, Arthur Francis’ sister, and also Palo Alto’s Library and Historical Association.  Harrison is also preparing to meet Dr. Pillsbury, apparently unmoved by the deceit he is carrying out on a man who has trusted him.
          In parallel, others with links to Ansel or Virginia Adams have been carrying out the same denigration and disinformation campaign against AC Pillsbury, which Dr. Pillsbury noted in his 1970s or earlier visit to Yosemite Valley with his children. 

                    Harrison names the date for his visit, February 25th, 1979.
                    Dr. Pillsbury responds on February 11, 1979,  with directions and welcomes Harrison’s wife, if she chooses to come. 

                  Harrison writes another letter to Rell Francis on February 15th burbling with delight over his research on Pillsbury and asking for help from Rell, along with a query on what he would charge for the part of the Oliver Collection in his custody.  Mr. Oliver was a friend of AC's who purchased the entire collection, comprising multiple boxes, Aethline was attempting to break up and sell when he came over to offer his sympathies on AC's death.
                Somehow, Harrison has also managed to have the opportunity to write an article on Pillsbury’s Alaska years for The Alaska Journal. 
                 Two boxes were left behind in an outbuilding.  One contained items that had belonged to Mr. Oliver. These were called to the attention of Rell Francis.  Francis Another box, which had not been collected by BYU, who came to Mrs. Oliver's home to pick up the donated collection, contained negatives and prints and films by AC Pillsbury.  Rell Francis noticed the box left behind in an outbuilding and took custody of it.  
         The article, which will be published Autumn of 1980, is filled with misstatements of Pillsbury’s motives and denigrates his ability to use photography in exactly the way it is needed to tell the stories of native people whom AC championed, and create greater understanding between the whole of humanity.  It strikes the reader as a continuation of the abuse of initiative, innovation, and locally based-business which was taken up as a mantra by those who wanted complete control of Americans by government and seizing the remaining Miwok native lands in Yosemite.  
              Amusingly, Harrison tells Rell he is, “not interested in buying the collection as an ‘investment’ but rather for use in my research and possible publications, that would influence how much I would be willing and able to pay for it.”  Since absent the influence and help of the Adams, Harrison is largely without any means whatsoever, this is almost amusing.  Almost. 
         Harrison has not been backward regarding BYU.  On February 8th, Dennis Rowley, Curator of the Archives & Manuscripts at BYU, received a letter from Harrison, responding on February 16th, 1979,  Rowley’s response is brief, informing Harrison it will be some time before the collection can be viewed. (The collection fills about a dozen archival boxes and portfolios, separated  in multiple categories.)
         Then, on February 28, 1979, Mrs. Oliver weighs in, having found out Rell Francis rescued the misplaced box of Pillsbury material.  She now is living in Alexandria Virginia and has been contacted by Dennis Rowley, Curator of the Archives & Manuscripts at BYU regarding Rell Francis’s possession of the errant box.  The letter is addressed to Betty and Normal Suth.  At no time was there any indication Rell Francis intended anything more than ensuring the misplaced box of materials was not accidentally damaged or destroyed and found an appropriate home.  His own life includes two rescues of  forgotten artists.  
             Dr. Pillsbury and the family, the legal heirs, were not notified as a result of the lies told by Steve Harrison.  If Dr. Pillsbury had known he would have flown to Utah immediately. 

            On March 6, 1979Rell Francis signs a document he has, himself, written and to which he attests as a full and accurate account of the preceding events.  Addressed:  TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, the document pulls together the pieces of a story which is consistent with his own life’s work.  The story told by Francis names Ansel Adams as the source of the communication with Harrison.  Including a copy of Adams’ letter, he states, “Mr. Adams also informed Mr. Steve Harrison of Merced, California, who has apparently been researching Mr. Pillsbury’s life for several years, that I had Pillsbury’s work.”   Why did these three people, Ansel Adams, Virginia Adams, Steve Harrison, and the phantom Joan Ciesle, intend by telling these lies?  
         Despite this, we now have the easiest and most logical answer to the question of who passed along the existence of the Pillsbury Collection to Steve Harrison.  This came directly from Ansel Adams. 
The letter by Rell continues: “Consequently, Mr. Harrison has written to me expressing interest in buying the collection. I informed him that I understood the BYU had the major collection of Pillsbury work which I thought Dr. Tipton had acquired for the University.”
        Harrison had not stopped writing letters regarding the Pillsbury Collection which had slipped through his fingers for the Adams.  On March 13, 1979, he wrote to thank Rell Francis and again state his interest in the Pillsbury Collection along with his intention to come to Provo, Utah.  Again, he lies, stating to Rell he has not yet contacted Dennis Rowley at BYU.  This had taken place on  February 8, 1979, more than a month earlier.  
         Rell Francis was clearly deluded regarding the agenda actually motivating Steve Harrison, which you see in the letter he wrote to Harrison on March 15,  1979.  Rell has been asked to turn the collection over to Rowley and BYU. 
Never backward in his attentions, on March 19th Harrison has a very busy day writing to both Dr. Pillsbury and Rell Francis.  It is too bad we cannot know which missive was scribed first. 
        First, we will consider the letter to Dr. Pillsbury.  Steve is up and buoyant, oozing thanks for the visit which is just over. Glowing with pride at having produced 3,000 words, a string of events with the significance rung out, on Pillsbury’s two years in Alaska.   He is basking in his accomplishment.  Titled, "His Camera was His Gold Mine," the article appeared in The Alaska Journal in the Autumn of 1980.  Dr. Pillsbury would not see a copy of it for some time, unfortunately.  Steve is not backward in thanking Dr. Pillsbury and his wife for the d’orotones which now line his walls, gifted to him by Dr. Pillsbury in the delusional assumption that a book worthy of the life of a great man will be coming does not come into the calculation.  Harrison had delivered what his patrons, the Adams, needed most.  Harrison will be the first to view the Pillsbury Collection and ascertain its contents.  This is not as good as having possession of the Pillsbury Collection physically, but they believe it insulates them from risk the use of stolen Pillsbury images will surface. 
        March 19, 1979, is not all brightness and light for Harrison.  He has learned Francis Rell’s possession of the box of Pillsbury material has been questioned but still wonders if purchasing it might be possible.  Harrison writes that he is still interested in buying the collection but adds, “I do not especially appreciate the thought the collection will end up at BYU.  Not that they would not care for it properly but simply because it seems that since Pillsbury was primarily a California photographer who lived, worked and had his businesses in California I think the collection will be geographically out-of-place in Utah.  But that is not a decision I can make at this time.”  ​ Harrison's middle name should be 'Chutzpah', not Douglas. 
             The delay made it impossible for a family member to view the collection until December 2017 when Pillsbury-Foster, appointed as agent by her father, Dr. Arthur F. Pillsbury, went to the Special Collections and spent a week going over it in detail.  Having seen the collection and reviewed the correspondence given to her by her father from Harrison, questions were answered and raised.  
             On April 4, 1979, Rell Francis writes to Dennis Rowley and demands an apology, which, given the evidence, is called for.  It is sad to see a good man deluded and in the service of one whose, motives and means are stomach-turning.  Dr. Pillsbury’s daughter, Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, talked to Rell several times in the early 90s and received from him the correspondence which, collated with that provided by Rell, would reveal the motives of Adams and Harrison.   Rell was shocked to learn Pillsbury had a family who is perfectly competent to handle the placement of documents, photographs, and other kinds of collections and had been looking for the collection since 1946.  That the Adams Family, and Harrison, were able to evade any accountability goes to a larger issue, the privileges accorded to those anointed as cultural icons.   
           Over time, Pillsbury-Foster realized how difficult it is to break past the barrier of disinformation which protects such individuals.   
         Dennis Rowley wrote to Harrison letting him know his research on Pillsbury would be facilitated on April 10, 1979.  The silence on the Collection to the Pillsbury family would continue for ten years.
       On April 16, 1979, Harrison again writes to Rell Francis.  He is spending time on the beach at Santa Cruz with his wife and his straitened financial situation appears to be at an end.  He regrets not getting his hands on the Pillsbury Collection, but life is good for him.
       Harrison is moving on with his life, his job on behalf of the Adams for now completed.  On May 6, 1979, Harrison writes again to Dr. Pillsbury. The existence of the collection is still not mentioned.  But Harrison does provide the information, never sought by Dr. Pillsbury, on when his father married AEtheline Banfield Dueul.
        On June 3, 1979, Rell Francis turns over the Pillsbury materials to the Archive at BYU. 

       No further communications will be initiated by Harrison.  But on July 4, 1979, Dr. Pillsbury writes to tell Harrison Aunt Grace has died.  He regrets she will no longer be a source of information and expresses his own grief.  Dr. Pillsbury ends the letter with, "I always wish I could do more to help you in your efforts."  On July 10, 1979, Harrison responds briefly to the letter to express his delight at being able to interview both Dr. Pillsbury and his sister, Grace.  The substance of which information will never be used, and to say his article has been accepted by The Alaska Journal.
       On January 6, 1981, Steve Harrison again writes to Rell Francis.  In the letter, he asks how much Rell would have charged for the Pillsbury Collection if he had had it to sell.  Harrison also shares his good news, he is now a full-time NPS Ranger. Harrison writes, “My wife and I moved to St. Louis Missouri in March of 1980.  It was a sudden and unexpected offer of a permanent position with the National Park Service which has taken us from our California home to the mid-west as they call this area.”  Highly irregular, but not unexpected.  It is speculation to say with certainty who arranged this offer, unjustified by any regular work is done for the NPS by Harrison and certainly not reflecting his credentials.  But it is not without foundation to posit a call made by Virginia or Ansel to their old friend, Horace Albright, Mather’s loyal second. 
     The award of such a position, unasked, is like winning the jackpot.  It is not difficult to name the few individuals who would have had the power to ensure Harrison received this.  Their names are Virginia and Ansel Adams and Horace M. Albright.  All of these individuals were involved in the original cover-up of the fire which destroyed the Pillsbury Studio. 
     Ansel set the fire and stole the Pillsbury Collection with Virginia’s help.  The Collection was most likely stored at the Best Studio, a short distance away, a wedding present for the bride, so to speak.  This ensured Ansel, despite his many flaws, would be a good investment.  And later, after Mather's death, Horace M. Albright, still covering for his hero and idol, Stephen Mather, assured the one person who could trouble their enjoyment of their ill-gotten power would not have the money to do so. 
    Finishing the job of wiping out the memory of Arthur C. Pillsbury likely viewed as necessary clean-up carried out to protect facts which would have proven highly embarrassing. Albright, an attorney whose book, "Creating the National Parks - The Missing Years,"  makes it clear he is aware of his own vulnerability would not have failed to realize he was carrying out a scheme which, under federal law, was a conspiracy, equally making each participant culpable for all of the acts committed.  This included the suicide of Pillsbury's brother-in-law, George Hatch Banfield.
    On January 22, 1981, Harrison finds time to drop a note to Dr. Pillsbury.  In his note he says of “His Camera Was His Goldmine,” "Here is the product of some of my research. I send it in gratitude for our invaluable assistance. You may have this copy with my thanks and my hope you and your family with (sic) enjoy reading about the little-known adventures of “Uncle” in Alaska.  I regret that Grace is no longer alive as I would have liked to have shared it with her also.   She was such a help to me also.  Please give my regards to Cal when next you talk to him. 
    I have no done anything further with all my research.  In March, my wife and I moved to St. Louis when I was offered a permanent position with the National Park Service.  I was working as a ranger at the Gateway Arch but now I am the museum specialist working at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Both sites are part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historic Site.  Donna is going to school and we are expecting a baby in June.  I look forward to the day I will have the time to once again write about your uncle’s contributions to photography." 

On January 27, 1981, Dr. Pillsbury responded, thanking Harrison.

On February 4, 1981, Harrison receives a letter from Dennis Rowley on the Pillsbury Collection at BYU.  It is not yet ready for viewing.
This is the beginning of the story.  It will be a decade before Dr. Pillsbury learns the collection he has looked for since his father's death in 1946 has been found.  Letter from Harrison, November 27, 1988

Alternatives Conference
The National Park System
  What has Worked, What Has Not - Finding Solutions for Real Sustainability​​
The Environmental Movement started in Yosemite.
So why solve the problems here?


      1 – Century      2 – Mather     3 – The Call    4 – Ansel Letter    5 – Pillsbury Box