Below is a sampling of items from our current exhibit. The full exhibit can be viewed on the 4th floor of Hayden Library at Arizona State University in Tempe. The exhibit is open to the public during normal library hours. For a map and directions to AHF click here.

Dane Coolidge, The Man
Naturalist.  Author.  Photographer.  Poet.
Dane Coolidge (1873-1940) had the observation skills of a scientist,  the soul of an artist,  and the courage and curiosity of an explorer.  During his lifetime, he wrote five books of non-fiction, 40 novels about the Old West, poetry, and numerous articles.  He also produced a remarkable body of photographic work.  Yet, for all that, he remains relatively unknown today.

Son of a farmer and cousin of President Calvin Coolidge, his love of writing  began in high school.  Dane attended Stanford University to study biology and became the editor of the student paper The Sequoia. He went on to Harvard, but left after only a year of graduate study. During this time, Dane supplemented his income by collecting field specimens in California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. Upon leaving Harvard, he resumed his field collecting and was sent to Europe by the British Museum, the United States Zoological Park, and United States Biological Survey.  That assignment resulted in his discovery of several new mammal species.

The Streets of Oatman, Arizona, 1916


Superior, Arizona, 1917

His Love of the Old West
Dane Coolidge returned to the American West and began photographing and studying desert animals.  His travels to remote, untamed places brought him into contact with cowboys, lawmen,  bandits, Indian tribes,  Mexican farmers,  miners, and those denizens of the desert, prospectors.  He was drawn to their stories and their way of life.
He spent months at a time following the roundups, riding with the Arizona and  Texas rangers and visiting boom towns like Oatman, Arizona.  In 1910, Coolidge published his first novel, Hidden Water, set in the Four Peaks area of the Salt River.  He spent the next 30 years criss-crossing the Southwest in search of his next story.

Unlike his contemporary, Zane Gray, Coolidge did not romanticize the Old West. He experienced it first hand and documented it.  Armed with a camera and posing as a professional photographer, Coolidge was warmly received by cowboys who liked nothing better than to tell stories and have their picture taken.

Cutting Cattle on Mowroy’s Ranch, Salt River, 1912
Prospector John Le Maigne, Panning for Gold, ND
His Photography
When Dane Coolidge began taking photographs, he adopted the technology of the time – glass plate negatives or Gelatin Dry Plates. These were  popular from 1879 to the 1920s and were mainly produced by Kodak.  The gelatin dry plate process eliminated the messy and potentially explosive chemical practice of hand coating. The plates could also be stored for months and developed at any time. Glass remains the best medium on which to photograph.  The images are crisp and capture every detail.  Although over 100 years old, many of the prints look as if they were taken yesterday. Printed from scans taken of the original glass plates, none of the photographs have been re-touched.  

The 35 photographs in the exhibit  were chosen from 2,000 original 5×7 glass plate negatives. This represents a fraction of  Coolidge’s work from 1906 to 1917.  The exhibit features his favorite themes: cowboys on the range, cattle and horses, border and mining towns, Pancho Villa and lawmen, prospectors and people of the Old West going about their business.  These images were not only chosen for their superior aesthetics but also for the activity, the landscape and the characters that could come out of a movie set.  Each image is one of a kind.

Pancho Villa at U.S. 12th Infantry Camp, Nogales, Arizona, 1912
Arizona Rangers, 1907
His Legacy
The Dane Coolidge Glass Plate Negative Collection is part of project that has been accepted as an Arizona 2012 Centennial Legacy Project.  The 2,000 plates will be cleaned, re-housed, scanned, and available for viewing on the Arizona Memory Project website by 2012. 
Click here for more information.