Before the dramatic black-and-white photography of Ansel Adams, local orchardist and avid photographer J. Gilbert Smith was inspired by scenes of the West. He took his camera along on trips to Yosemite, Big Sur and the Santa Cruz Mountains, capturing a love of nature.
His photographs of the natural world, and of Los Altos in days gone by, are the subject of a new exhibition, “The Photography of J. Gilbert Smith,” slated for display Thursday through May 24 in the Los Altos History Museum’s J. Gilbert Smith House.
The photography exhibition complements an art exhibition on display in the museum’s main gallery, allowing visitors to see several artistic expressions in various media created over the past 100 years.
Smith developed his photographic talent after arriving in the Bay Area from Oregon in 1899 to pursue an engineering degree at Stanford University. Although best known locally for the apricot orchard he established on what is now the Los Altos Civic Center grounds near downtown in 1901, he was also a published photographer.
“These photographs are some of my favorite artifacts in the museum’s collections because they let us see the world through J. Gilbert Smith’s eyes, showing us what California and Los Altos looked like 100 years ago,” exhibition curator Amy Ellison said. “His photographs show an ardent love and respect for nature, and I think they also show him to be someone who took joy in both beauty and creative expression. We also discovered that some of his photographs had been used in a book about Yosemite.”
The museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free.