Laura Adams Armer

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Laura Adams Armer
Armer at the California School of Design c. 1895
Armer at the California School of Design
c. 1895
BornLaura May Adams
(1874-01-12)January 12, 1874
Sacramento, California
DiedMarch 16, 1963(1963-03-16) (aged 89)
OccupationAmerican writer, novelist and photographer
EducationCalifornia School of Design in San Francisco
Notable awardsNewbery Medal for Waterless Mountain, Caldecott Honor for "The Forest Pool", 1939.
SpouseSidney Armer

Laura Adams Armer (January 12, 1874 – March 16, 1963)[1] was an American artist and writer. In 1932, her novel Waterless Mountain won the Newbery Medal.[2] She was also an early photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area.[3]


Laura May Adams was born in Sacramento, California, and relocated with her family to San Francisco before 1880. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a dressmaker. In 1893 Miss Adams began her art studies at the California School of Design in the Mark Hopkins Institute and left in 1899 to open her own photographic studio in the Flood Building. She achieved rapid success as a portrait photographer, published her theories on composing studies for the camera, and exhibited with great acclaim at the: San Francisco Sketch Club (1900); California State Fair (1901–02); New York Camera Club (1901); Photographic Salons of San Francisco (1901-Second Prize; 1902–03); Starr King Fraternity in Oakland (1902); and San Francisco Art Association (1903). In February 1902 she sold her studio to Berkeley photographer Adelaide Hanscom and traveled in the Southwest with her fiancée Sidney Armer.[3]

The couple married that July and in 1903 moved to Berkeley for the birth of their son, Austin. The pace of her exhibitions accelerated with a display at the Oakland Art Fund of her bookplate designs and prints, which Anne Brigman called “exquisite,” and contributions to the American Photographic Salons in New York City and Washington, D.C.[4][5] She returned from a trip to Tahiti in October 1905 and shortly thereafter her infant daughter died. She emerged from a short retirement in late 1906 and became an active exhibiting member of the Berkeley art colony. She also exhibited on the Monterey Peninsula and vacationed in Carmel with Anne Brigman. Laura won a silver medal at Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909 and began to experiment with color photography in her popular Berkeley studio.[3]

The turning point in her career came in 1919-20 when she began to document systematically the Hopi and Navajo of the Southwest, which resulted in numerous publications on their societies, art (especially sand paintings), and folklore, as well as hundreds of photographs and the film The Mountain Chant (1928).[3]


Black and white photo of a Chinese man, who has a very long queue falling along his back, bending over a steaming pan on a step.
An elderly Chinese man with a queue, photographed in Chinatown by Armer.

Armer's photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown (c. 1900) are in the collection of the California Historical Society of San Francisco.[6] Her photos of the American Southwest are in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico.[7]

Published works[edit]

  • Armer, Laura Adams (1931). Waterless Mountain. Longmans, Green.
  • Armer, Laura Adams (1933). Dark Circle of Branches. Longman, Green.
  • Armer, Laura Adams (1962). In Navajo Land. D. McKay Company.
  • Armer, Laura Adams (1935). Southwest. Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Armer, Laura Adams (1937). The trader's children. Longmans, Green and co.
  • Armer, Laura Adams (1938). Farthest West ... Illustrated by Sidney Armer. Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Armer, Laura Adams (1938). The Forest Pool. Longmans, Green & Co.


  1. ^ The Humboldt Arts Council in the Morris Graves Museum of Art Archived 2007-10-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Bostrom, Kathleen Long (2003). Winning Authors: Profiles of the Newbery Medalists. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 35–. ISBN 978-1-56308-877-3. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Edwards, Robert W. (2012). Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, Vol. 1. Oakland, Calif.: East Bay Heritage Project. pp. 92–93171, 206, 236 248, 311–315, 688. ISBN 9781467545679. An online facsimile of the entire text of Vol. 1 is posted on the Traditional Fine Arts Organization website ("Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-29. Retrieved 2016-06-07.).
  4. ^ Camera Craft, 10, 1905, p. 229.
  5. ^ The Washington Post, 15 January 1905, p. 4-2
  6. ^ Lee, Anthony W. (2001). Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco. University of California Press. pp. 135–. ISBN 978-0-520-22592-3.
  7. ^ Peter Palmquist, "Laura May (Adams) Armer (active 1899-1930's)", in 100 Years of California Photography by Women: 1850-1950. Retrieved 22 March 2013.

External links[edit]