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Ansel Adams | Article

Virginia Best Adams (1904-2000)


Virginia Best was 17 years old when she met 19-year-old Ansel Adams in 1921. The two shared a passion for the outdoors and for classical music. With a contralto voice that Ansel found beautiful, Virginia intended to become a singer, while he was planning to become a pianist.

It was Ansel's need for piano practice that led him to Virginia. Her father, Harry Best, owned a piano that Ansel would practice on while visiting Yosemite. Best owned a gift shop in Yosemite called Best's Studio. The store sold wood carvings, books, and Best's paintings of Yosemite.

After her mother died in 1920, Virginia kept house for her father. She and Ansel exchanged many affectionate letters during their long courtship. They became engaged once, but Ansel broke off the engagement. They were engaged again when Ansel visited Yosemite on December 31, 1927, for a New Year's Eve celebration. The wedding took place three days later, on January 2, 1928. Virginia wore a black dress, because it was the best one she owned, and there was no time to purchase a wedding gown. Ansel wore a coat and tie, knickers, and basketball shoes. The ceremony was nearly delayed because Ansel's best man lost the wedding ring. He had dropped it in the snow while attaching chains to the bridal getaway car. After much searching, he found the ring in enough time for the wedding to proceed as scheduled. It had been buried in the slush underneath the car.

Like Ansel, Virginia was an avid hiker. They were both members of the Sierra Club, and often went on Club-sponsored hikes. Virginia served on the Sierra Club's board of directors from 1931 to 1933, until her first child was born.

Virginia was expecting their first child in August 1933, while Ansel was one of the leaders of a month-long expedition to the Kings River region. Knowing the baby was due, Ansel left the hike a day early -- only to find out that little Michael had arrived two days before. Despite Ansel's absence, Virginia had a remarkably easy birth. She wrote, "I certainly didn't need an anesthetic. Dr. Dewey said it was one of the easiest first births he'd had. Once he said, 'You're entitled to holler,' but I didn't feel the inclination."

Two years later, Virginia gave birth to a daughter, again in her husband's absence. Ansel was on a photographic assignment in the Sierra Nevada when little Anne arrived one day before his return to their home.

After her father died in 1936, Virginia inherited the operation of Best's Studio. Because they wanted to sell only high-quality merchandise, Virginia and Ansel decided to produce some of it themselves. The National Park Service would not let the shop act as a publisher, so Virginia and Ansel formed a company along with three friends, which they called Five Associates. The company published high-quality photographic postcards and notecards, as well as serious picture books and guidebooks. Best's Studio even sold some 8-by-10 inch prints of Ansel's photographs of Yosemite.

In 1941 Virginia and Ansel wrote a children's book called Michael and Anne in Yosemite Valley. Although the book was quite successful, Ansel was not pleased with the results, "The reproductions were terrible and the editor ruined the simplicity of Virginia's text by making it conventionally inane at every opportunity."

Virginia eventually turned Five Associates over to her daughter. Anne renamed the company Museum Graphics. She continued to print high-quality notecards and postcards featuring photographs by her father, as well as other photographers.

After having outlived Ansel by 16 years, Virginia Best Adams passed away at the age of 96 on January 29, 2000.

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