Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

GILPIN, LAURA (1891-1979)

Photographer Laura Gilpin was born on April 22, 1891, in Austin Bluffs, Colorado, just north of Colorado Springs. She was given a Brownie camera for her twelfth birthday, and by the time she was seventeen she was experimenting with Autochromes, an early form of color photography. In 1916 she moved to New York and, using money from her own Colorado poultry business, enrolled in the Clarence H. White School of Photography. There she acquired her skills, but it was in the Southwest and the southwestern Great Plains that she found her subject.

Gilpin returned to her native Colorado Springs, established a professional photographic business, and began photographing the prairies of eastern Colorado. She would remain a landscape photographer for sixty years, becoming the first American woman to devote herself to that art. As her interest in the cultural dimensions of the landscape grew, Gilpin expanded her work to embrace prehistoric sites, contemporary Native American settlements, and the communities of people living and working along the Rio Grande. She addressed these topics in her four major books (The Pueblos: A Camera Chronicle, 1941; Temples in Yucatan: A Camera Chronicle of Chichén Itzá, 1948; The Rio Grande: River of Destiny, 1949; and The Enduring Navaho, 1968), each of which explores the interactions between people and their physical environment and focuses on the ways in which the landscape shapes cultural patterns even as people reshape their physical surroundings. Gilpin moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1945. In her later years, an emerging market for fine art photography brought renewed attention to her life's work. Gilpin died on November 30, 1979, in Santa Fe. She bequeathed her photographic estate to the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

Martha A. Sandweiss Amherst College

Laura Gilpin Photographs and Papers, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. Sandweiss, Martha A. Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1986.

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