The Photography of Helen Lukens Gaut (1872-1955)
On view October 8, 2011 to February 26, 2012
This exhibition offered a rare glimpse into the scenic wonders and commonplace landscapes of early-twentieth century California through the eyes of a woman.
Helen Lukens Gaut established a successful career as a photojournalist in the 1920s, merging her love for nature, passion for motoring, and engaging writing style into pieces for numerous magazines such as Out West, Overland Monthly, Cosmopolitan, The Craftsman, Ladies’ Home Journal, and House Beautiful. Southern California’s Evolving Landscape: The Photography of Helen Lukens Gaut (1872-1955) gave the public a first look at prints of some of the 200 negatives by Gaut recently acquired by PMH through a generous donation from Alyce de Roulet Williamson.
Some years ago, a chance meeting of a connoisseur of photography and a well-respected historian resulted in this major gift to PMH. In 2002, Richard (Blue) Trimarchi, President of Art Works Fine Art Publishing, shared a collection of negatives taken by Helen Lukens Gaut with former Museum Trustee Dr. Robert Winter. Dr. Winter was excited by the importance of the images taken by a woman photographer in the second decade of the twentieth century. The collection was purchased with a generous donation to the Museum by Alyce de Roulet Williamson. Although these holdings certainly do not comprise all of Gaut’s photography, they do reflect the essentials of her life — especially her interests in nature, motoring, and architecture.
Helen Lukens Gaut was born in Rock Falls, Illinois. Her father, Theodore Parker Lukens, anticipating a better and healthier climate in Southern California, moved with her mother Charlotte Dyer Lukens and eight-year-old Helen to Pasadena in 1880 and immediately established a strong presence in the community. He served as Mayor in 1890 and again in 1894. A friend of John Muir, Lukens became known as “The Father of Forestry” for his efforts related to the reforestation of California’s mountain woodlands.
Helen had two children with her husband Edward Everett Jones, however the marriage did not last. In 1905, Helen met James H. Gaut on a camping trip; the couple married the following year. Helen was deeply influenced by her father’s study of nature, but she took it in new directions. Her adventurous spirit was liberated when she purchased her first automobile and began to tour California. She also taught herself how to use a camera in order to document her travels. These combined talents and interests, along with an appealing writing style, led to her become a well-known photojournalist. Helen rarely published any of her articles or photographs after 1920. During this part of her life she concentrated on her love of music. Although she reputedly had a lovely singing voice, her training in music and composition, like her photography, seems to have been self taught. Nevertheless, Helen became well known for her published songs (including a 1922 song titled Pasadena), for which she usually devised both the lyrics and melodies. She moved to Highland Park in 1927, where she died in 1955.