The Mercury News
Capturing the Bay Area
Huge archive of iconic photos, valued at $32 million, given to UC Santa Cruz
SANTA CRUZ — A valley on the verge of disappearing, hippies high on the Haight, stern Black Panthers clad in leather jackets and berets — Pirkle Jones and wife Ruth-Marion Baruch photographed the San Francisco Bay Area during a time of radical change. Decades later, the images they captured continue to make a huge impact.
A collection of their photographic prints, negatives and transparencies that has been donated to UC Santa Cruz is worth an estimated $32 million, making it the single largest gift ever received by the university.
The vast archive is an extraordinary document of mid20th century California. In addition to the work of Pirkle and Baruch, the collection includes a selection of prints by colleagues and collaborators such as Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Minor White.
Jones, who died in 2009 at the age of 95, joined the first class taught by the legendary photographer Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts in 1946. He rose to critical prominence in 1956 after accepting Dorothea Lange’s invitation to document the last year of the Berryessa Valley before it was flooded to accommodate Lake Berryessa.
In subsequent decades, Jones and Baruch created iconic photographic collections of the Bay Area counterculture, including Haight Ashbury in 1967, the Black Panthers in 1968, and the Sausalito artists’ colony, Gate Five, in the 1970s.
“These images tell the story of California at a time of tremendous social change. The collection is an extraordinary resource for scholars, students and ultimately the public,” said Chancellor George Blumenthal, who met Jones during a campus visit. “He was a free spirit, a pioneer of photography. It’s gratifying that he wanted his collection here.”
Jones became acquainted with UCSC in 1969, when he served as a teacher at a workshop held on campus by Adams, according to public information officer Scott Rappaport.
“I was extremely pleased with the beauty of the campus,” Jones said in a 2003 interview. “And the mood and the attitude there was something that I had never seen before. It is one of the unique universities anywhere.”
Prints from the collection have been exhibited at museums throughout the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
The gift, which was donated by The Marin Community Foundation, was moved from storage in San Francisco to the McHenry Library on campus at the end of September. The 12,000 photographic prints, 25,000 negatives and thousands of transparencies filled three 24foot trucks with more than 900 boxes of materials, as well as hundreds of framed items.
Elisabeth Remak-Honnef, head of Special Collections and Archives at UC Santa Cruz, said it will take at least two years for a project archivist, assisted by skilled graduate students, to process the collection.
“The stories Pirkle and Ruth-Marion captured from the 1940s through the 1970s are just as relevant today as when they were created,” Remak-Honnef said. “We are grappling with the same issues of social, political and environmental justice.”