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Peaks inspired Kansas photographer

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 3, 2010, at 12:02 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, May 3, 2010, at 11:57 a.m.

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”

Black-and-white photos of rugged, craggy mountains in his grade-school geography textbook inspired Harrison “Hank” Crandall as a boy.

It made this Kansas flatlander yearn to be a photographer.

Born in Newton in 1887, Crandall grew up to become a nationally known photographer and painter.

Celebrities found their way to his cabin art studio, delighting in portrayals of mountain climbers dangling over a mountain ledge with a rope against the open air and the blue sky; fresh faced cowgirls and their horses; or close-ups of fragile wildflowers.

His artwork appeared in magazines and calendars and prompted John D. Rockefeller to write him a note: “The beautiful colored picture you gave us when we were here last has been framed and hangs in my dressing room. It gives us constant delight.”

Crandall was born Nov. 23, 1887, in Newton.

After serving in World War I and studying art in Los Angeles, Crandall moved to the Grand Tetons in the mid-1920s. He and his wife, Hildegard or “Hilda,” homesteaded 120 acres near Jackson Hole.

In 1927, Crandall opened his log cabin art studio. He produced hand-colored postcards featuring ranch life and Teton mountains. He also sold tourist items — cameras and film, Navajo rugs and animal skins.

The Crandalls also lived near Boise, Idaho, during part of the year, but each spring and summer they returned to Jackson Hole for his business.

They thrived, in part, because the area during the 1920s and 1930s had been hit hard by the economic downturn. The livestock, coal and oil industries, which had fueled the state’s economy, were faltering. But the tourism industry was thriving and Crandall had bought one of the Grand Teton National Park’s first concession permits. He quickly established himself as a go-to person.

He was sought out by motion picture scouts from Hollywood to produce photos, and he became an advocate for the area, selling thousands of his postcards and photographs.

When he retired in 1959, he turned his studio over to the park. He died in the 1970s.

Today, what remains of his legacy is the Crandall Studio at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, located eight miles north of Moose Junction on the Teton Park Road.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336.

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