Guardian in Carriage, Sonoma Valley, California, from Photographic Viws of El Verano and Vicinty by Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916)
Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates features 75 black and white dog photographs taken between 1870-1940 from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. The authors, Susan Snyder, public services director at the Bancroft Library, and Mary Scott, graphic designer for the university's Doe & Moffitt Libraries, inadvertently began the book in 2005 when they were researching photographs for an exhibition on Californian women and they kept finding wonderful dog photographs. After envisioning the calendar, they made selections from the hundreds of choices by deciding to include ones that depict the connection between people and their dogs. And that is what makes the book so special. It speaks to everyone who has ever passionately loved a dog and it celebrates the medium of photography for documenting that passion.
But my favorite aspect of Everyday Dogs, besides the fact that it is perpetual and not headed for the recycling bin in 12 months, is that almost every photograph is captioned with the name of the person and the name of the dog. These are not anonymous snapshots that charm but leave one curious and a little sad that their histories are lost. These photographs are treasures, cared for and curated at one of the greatest universities in the world.
Many of the photographs depict famous literary figures, visionaries, and pioneering individuals who made California the golden state of myth and reality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What these photos, and the care with which they have been archived, express to me is that without dogs we would not be who we are as people or as a civilization.
Would our national parks be as expansive if John Muir was without Stickeen? Would San Simeon stand as magnificently if William Randolph Hearst didn't have Helen? Would our literature be as rich or our society as diverse if there was no Greta to keep Langston Hughes's company at Noël Sullivan's Carmel cabin? (The dog came with the retreat.)
But it is the everyday dogs of Everyday Dogs who truly inspire: the pups in the "Tent City" of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, the loyal companions of the prospector, the mountain guide, the volunteer postman, the ornithologist, the teacher, the housewife, the nurse, the students, the animal-rights activist, the dock workers, and the surveyors. When I look at these dogs through the lens of time, I see how integral they were to our survival. I also notice that few of the dogs have leashes and almost all of their companions have smiles. Dogs makes us human. Dogs make us civilized. But most of all, dogs make us happy, everyday.
John Muir and Stickeen, circa 1880
May Savage and Her Dogs, Livermore, California, 1897, Savage Family Homes Photo Collection
A Happy Family, San Francisco "Tent City" after the 1906 Earthquake, Charles Baker photo collection
Langston Hughes with Greta, Noël Sullivan's German Shepherd, Carmel, California, 1933
The University Summer School of Surveying, Including the Canine Crew Members, Calistoga, California, 1898, Oliver Family Photo Collection
William Randolph Hearst and his Constant Companion, Helen, at San Simeon
Dock Workers and Tail Wagger by Patroni House, Charles Baker Photo Collection
Ornithologist James Moffitt with his Pal Riding Shotgun, Mendocino County, September 10, 1938. Portraits of Joseph Grinnell's Family and his Colleagues
Darby Looking in Water with Little Person by Sabrina Cameron, 2012
A few weeks ago, my 5-year-old niece, Sabrina Cameron, came home from school with this drawing of Darby. She said she was inspired by a story she heard. My sister, Sheila, thinks it was Aesop's fable about the dog and his reflection. I wonder if it was Narcissus. Either way, I wanted to share it today, on Darby's birthday.
He would have been 18. I miss him every day. But it makes me smile (OK, and shed a few tears) that he continues to inspire great artists like Sabrina.