An Artist and His Chocolate

September 02, 2014 Posted by: SS - Park Ranger (Wawona)
Chris Jorgenson at his Yosemite studio, 1901Wawona is home to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic structures that represent various components of the rich history of Yosemite National Park. The bungalow of Chris Jorgensen is found immediately on the left upon strolling out from the Wawona Covered Bridge. Although not as well known in national artistic circles as the now-famous names of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, William Keith, and Thomas Moran, Jorgensen is locally known and beloved by those of his adopted state of California. Born in Norway and brought to San Francisco as a boy by his widowed mother, Christian Jorgensen initially showed little sign of his future success. Born impoverished and disabled, he determined to rise above those impediments in his new land of opportunity. After showing signs of artistic ability, Jorgensen was admitted as the first tuition-free student to the California School of Design. Later, upon graduation he became an instructor and assistant director of his alma mater. 
Offering art lessons and opening his own art studio in San Francisco, Jorgensen met and instructed an aspiring and talented young student. Her name, Angela Ghirardelli, evokes even today the image of the thriving chocolate and confectionary empire that her father built. Initially, the wealthy Ghirardelli family forbade the attention and courting that both Chris Jorgensen and Angela desired. Eventually, her father Domingo Ghirardelli, after the death of his wife, blessed the union between the two. In the following years, when Domingo desired to return to his homeland of Italy to live out his remaining years, Chris and Angela Jorgensen accompanied him. During these years spent in the thriving artistic community of Italy, Jorgensen strengthened and developed his painting style. 
Unencumbered by financial worries after his marriage to Angela, Chris Jorgensen built a summer studio in Yosemite Valley to paint in watercolors and oils the images of the Park that we now treasure. Many art critics suggest that his best work was when he worked with watercolors "en plein air" instead of the more ponderous traditional oil medium popular at the time. Jorgensen's studio was a social and artistic hub for many visitors to Yosemite, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Chris and Angela with their two children spent portions of their year in Yosemite, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pebble Beach, and also Piedmont, California. 
Painting of El Capitan - watercolor on paper  Painting of the Mariposa Grove - watercolor on paper
One could contemplate the influence that marrying into the Ghirardelli family had on the life of Chris Jorgensen. Not only did Jorgensen then have the freedom to paint what inspired him, but he also had the opportunity to eat delightful chocolate!     
Painting of Happy Isles - watercolor on paper

Wawona, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite's Legacy, SS

Last updated: October 2, 2014

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