Susanita’s Album

Cyanotype photograph of Charles Lummis (at center, holding the shutter release) with Susanita Del Valle (right front) and her sisters, ca. 1888.

Cyanotype photograph of Charles Lummis (at center, holding the shutter release) with Susanita del Valle (right front) and her sisters, ca. 1888.

Author Helen Hunt Jackson set her 1884 novel Ramona on the fictional Moreno Rancho, a site allegedly inspired by Rancho Camulos, the Santa Clara River Valley home of Ygnacio del Valle and his family. Soon after Jackson penned her melodramatic bestseller, Charles F. Lummis, an influential writer, editor, and enthusiastic amateur photographer, visited the ranch and fell in love with the setting. He also fell in love with del Valle’s daughter, the 16-year-old Susanita.  Over the course of many visits, Lummis made a series of cyanotype (or blueprint) photographs, including striking pictures of Susanita and her sisters. In 1888, he presented Susanita with a special leather-bound album, embossed with her name in gold, containing 83 images and two heartfelt poems.

Donald and Carol Cook.

Donald and Carol Cook in an undated family photo.

The Huntington recently purchased Lummis’ one-of-a-kind album from del Valle family descendants with funds made in memory of Carol Jackson Cook and Donald Wrentmore Cook.

Carol Jackson Cook (who passed away in 2010) began her decades-long involvement with The Huntington as a garden docent specializing in the Desert Garden. Over the course of 30 years, she led groups through the Huntington Art Gallery, the Library, and eventually the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery.  Carol’s last role at The Huntington was as a volunteer in the information booth. “She was a fount of information and enthusiasm,” remembered her daughter, Susan Studier. “Besides loving the impressive collections of The Huntington, my mother loved the staff, both scholarly and administrative, including the incredibly well-informed security staff, and the many docents with whom she became friends.”

Carol’s passion for books inspired her family to consider a memorial purchase in her name. After Studier met with Library curators (many of whom knew Carol personally) and discussed her mother’s many and varied interests, an opportunity arose to purchase a special item of historical significance. Using donations provided by Carol’s friends, family members, and fellow docents, The Huntington acquired the Charles Lummis album from the del Valle heirs. “The romance of the ranch and Lummis’ affection for the del Valle family seemed a lovely connection,” Studier said. “Even the visual aspect seemed just right!” The family made the gift to honor Carol’s husband, Donald (who passed away in 1991), as well. “The thought that my parents have a memorial together in this lovely and historic album, to be preserved in the Library forever, seems perfect.”

“This is a tremendously exciting and important acquisition,” says curator of photographs, Jennifer Watts. “The album’s depiction of a site and family of such enduring regional interest by Charles F. Lummis—brash advocate for all things Southwestern—and of his teenage love interest, makes it irresistible to scholars in many fields. We are grateful to the Cook family for making this stellar acquisition possible.”

Enedina, Susanita, and Natalia del Valle, ca. 1888.

The album, which has been conserved, cataloged, and scanned, is available for viewing in the Huntington Digital Library.

Cris Lutz is the planned giving director at The Huntington.

4 thoughts on “Susanita’s Album

  1. How appropriate that this gift would be made in Carol Cook’s name! When I started working at The Huntingtin in 1982 Carol was one of the Docents who took me undermhermwing and introduced me to the wonders and history of the place. Her love of the institution carries on through the generations!

  2. Thank you for these fabulous photos. What a treasure for all of us. Thank you to Charles F. Lummis, the del Valle family and the Cook family for giving us this rare glimpse into California’s earlier days.

  3. It has been such an honor growing up with this history in our family and the Huntington Library was exactly the place for it! So glad we could share it!

  4. Pingback: Episode #32: Ranchos & Rubber Plants | Esotouric Bus Adventures

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