Dorothea Lange: The Louise Lovett Collection

Jan 29, 2017 to Apr 9, 2017

Peninsula Museum of Art is pleased to present an exhibition of 23 images by Dorothea Lange never before displayed to the public: “Dorothea Lange: The Louise Lovett Collection.”  

As young women, Louise Lovett and Dorothea Lange met in San Francisco and became friends for life.  Lange captured their friendship in an intimate collection of images during Depression-era visits to Lovett’s parents’ farm along Soquel Creek near Santa Cruz, California.  Ellen Anne Chong, granddaughter of Louise Lovett and curator of the exhibition, is proud to share these photographs and their unique history with PMA and the public. 

There will be a free public opening on January 29. Also planned: a separate private preview for Museum supporters, where Chong will be in conversation with documentary filmmaker Tom Ropelewsky following a special screening of his documentary Child of Giants.  The film tells the story of Dorothea Lange and her artist husband Maynard Dixon, from the personal perspective of their oldest son Daniel Dixon.  

Images of Daniel and his brother John Dixon, taken by their mother Dorothea Lange, are a part of this special exhibition for PMA, as are images of Chong’s mother, aunt, grandparents and great grandparents, among others.  The photographs are black and white, taken outdoors on the family property.  In stark contrast to Lange’s later somber photos, these reveal the relaxed and happy faces of close families and children at play in nature.  This included skinny-dipping and posing in the trees— both clothed and otherwise.  Chong notes that she was “surprised to learn her grandparents, who were strict Protestants, enjoyed sunbathing in the nude.”  

Chong and her husband are the owners of the property today, where they continue to create new family memories with their grandchildren, the sixth generation to enjoy swimming in Soquel Creek.  

Dorothea Lange & Timeline for The Louise Lovett Collection

Best known for her iconic photograph “Migrant Mother,” Dorothea Lange’s career spanned five decades. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895, Lange studied photography at Columbia University then in 1919, at the age of 23, she boldly opened a portrait studio in San Francisco. In 1920, Lange then married noted Western artist Maynard Dixon, a man who was 20 years her senior, and who exposed her to the bohemian art world.

It was during this period, from the late 1920s to the early 1930s, while she was married to Dixon, that Dorothea Lange traveled several times to her friend Louise Lovett’s parents’ farm along the Soquel Creek near Santa Cruz, California, and captured the images seen in this special show for Peninsula Museum of Art.  Louise Lovett’s remaining family members recall hearing stories about Lange and Dixon camping in a teepee on the property with their children.

Lange and Dixon also lived, worked and traveled through Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, but in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, they returned to San Francisco and divorced.  With the Depression worsening around her, Lange felt compelled to take her camera out onto the streets: the resulting photographs lead to work with FDR's Farm Security Administration as a documentary photographer.  From 1935 to 1939, Lange's arresting FSA images—drawing upon her strength as a portrait photographer—brought the plight of the nation's poor and forgotten peoples, especially sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers, into the public eye. Her image "Migrant Mother" is arguably the best-known documentary photograph of the 20th century and has become a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), Dorothea Lange’s husband from 1920 to 1935, was himself a celebrated artist; images of their sons Daniel and John Dixon appear in the Louise Lovett Collection showing at PMA.  Born on a ranch near Fresno, California, Maynard Dixon was a noted illustrator, landscape, and mural painter of the early 20th-century American West, especially the desert landscape, Indians, early settlers, and cowboys.

In 1935, Lange wed Paul S. Taylor, an economics professor at UC Berkeley.  They were married until she died of esophageal cancer in 1965.  In an interview before her death, Dorothea Lange summarized the essence of a photograph as "an act of love." "That's the deepest thing behind it," she reflected. "The audience, the recipient of it, gives that back."

Louise Lovett’s granddaughter owns the family prints showing at Peninsula Museum of Art.  The Oakland Museum of California owns the negatives and copyrights for reproduction, along with all of Lange's personal archive.  They have granted PMA permission to reproduce the Lovett family images for promotional purposes in conjunction with this special exhibition. 

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