TRAVERSE CITY — Ragnar “Rags” Avery knew just where to turn for advice when he received his first real camera as a college graduation gift.
“At that time Ansel Adams was extremely popular,” said Avery, a business development consultant and amateur landscape photographer from Kalkaska. “I was very influenced and very enamored of his work and work process. One of my favorite books is his ‘Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs’ in which he gives images and shares their backstory. That book and those images are still my favorites.”
Now Avery will get to see many of those images in person for the first time. “Ansel Adams: Masterworks” is making its northern Michigan debut at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey.
The museum collection curated by Adams himself includes 47 of the photographer and environmentalist’s most iconic landscapes and lesser-known nature close-ups and portraits, along with a portrait of Adams by James Alinder. The traveling exhibition organized by Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California has made its way to more than 30 museums in 10 years.
Landau Traveling Exhibitions Manager manager Jeffrey Landau said it’s his most popular show.
“Even though everybody knows Ansel Adams’ name, a whole generation has not seen his work in person.”
The exhibition is at the heart of “Through the Lens: Ansel Adams — His Work, Inspiration and Legacy,” four months of programming based on Adams and photographic art at Crooked Tree in Petoskey and Traverse City.
Highlights include a June 13 screening of Ric Burns’ “Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film;” a June 16 lecture by three of Adams’ former colleagues and assistants including Evan Russell, acting curator of the Ansel Adams Gallery; and a July 5 Bay View performance of composers Dave and Chris Brubek’s “Ansel Adams – America,” a symphonic tribute to the photographer accompanied by over 100 of his images.
Crooked Tree President Liz Ahrens said the summer event has been years in the making since it was suggested by Walloon Lake patrons, sponsors and photography collectors Teresa and David Crouse. Fundraising for the $100,000 project began three years ago.
The exhibition opened June 1 and runs through September 30. That’s a month longer than previous summer shows, Ahrens said.
“We are running this one through September to give locals who are busy in the summertime to see it,” she said.
Rags Avery plans to attend with wife, Kristy, a professional artist. Both have photographs in the concurrent “Our National Parks” exhibition, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the national park system.
The couple took the photos during a 1,300-mile pilgrimage through Colorado and Utah to visit national parks and monuments.
“It was quite a trip,” said Avery, adding that the September 2016 adventure took them to Arches, Mesa Verde and Canyonlands National Parks and to Bridges National Monument. “We were basically doing photography the whole way.”
That the photos will share space with Adams’ masterworks, most taken at national parks, is not lost on Avery.
Adams spent months at a time in park wilderness, hauling cameras, tripods and portable darkroom equipment including his famous large- and medium-format cameras.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980 for “the patient skill and timeless beauty of his work” and, a year after his death in 1984, a namesake peak in his beloved Yosemite.
“A lot of the territory in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sierra Nevada, he showed people for the first time,” said Tom Haxby of Kingsley, a professional nature photographer who sells his images through Tom Haxby Photos.
Haxby said he became aware of Adams and his work when Haxby started studying photography in high school. Now Haxby is a board member of the North American Nature Photography Association and last fall served as artist-in-residence at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Adams took photographs as part of a Guggenheim Fellowship on America’s national parks and monuments.
“It wasn’t just what he did by taking photographs, but the work he did in the darkroom later,” said Haxby, whose favorite Adams photograph is “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” (1941), which Adams famously made in moments without benefit of a light meter.
“He was very meticulous in creating the vision of the image that he wanted to convey. I think most nature photographers have admired his style. He was a trendsetter.”
The photograph will be on display at Crooked Tree along with other favorites like “Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada, From Lone Pine, California” (1944); “The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming” (1942); and “Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Monument, California” (circa 1948).
Viewers can browse the gallery on their own or take a 20-minute docent-led tour (Tuesdays and Thursdays) to learn more about Adams, his photographic processes and his passion for the environment.
“We know that this is going to have a lot of people coming through the doors that wouldn’t (ordinarily) make a trip to the center during their visit,” said Ahrens, who expects visitors to include scholars and collectors. “There’s also tons of related programming June 5-18. Some of the weeks there are three or four events a week.”
Crooked Tree will be open daily through September. Gallery admission is free but donations of $5 are suggested to underwrite the cost of the exhibition. For more information, call 231-347-4337 or visit www.crookedtree.org.
Related programming at the Traverse City location includes “Northern Lights Juried Photography Exhibition,” featuring work by the Michigan Aurora Hunters, and “Visions of Light,” showcasing the work of former Adams student Monte Nagler. Both exhibits run June 8-Aug. 2.