Blackwing Volumes subscriber Pat Hannon posted this awesome video of him unboxing his Blackwing 211 subscription.
It turns out, Blackwing has more ties to John Muir than just the new 211 edition pencil.
We’re based in Stockton, California, home to the University of the Pacific, the oldest chartered university in California. Deep in the bowels of the Pacific library is the Holt Atherton Archive, a fireproof room filled with archive boxes. Inside of these boxes are hundreds upon hundreds of sketches, correspondence and journals penciled (and penned, shhh) by John Muir. The John Muir Papers, as they’re called, account for roughly 75% of the surviving works of John Muir. While planning the release of the Blackwing 211, visiting these archives was a must.
When we arrived at the archive we were asked to sign in, submit a written request for the papers we would like to view, and leave our bags at the door. We were taken into a room with “Use Pencils Only” posted at every table. Clearly, this was our kind of place.
The safety of the papers, which date back over 100 years, is of the utmost importance. We were actually told that, should the room catch fire with us still inside, all of the oxygen would be removed immediately, killing us instantly, but keeping the papers in tact. Now that’s security.
The file we requested was brought out and we were allowed to sort through the papers inside. Most of the drawings were sealed in archival sleeves, but some larger drawings were protected by a plastic cover that could be lifted to view the drawing unimpeded.
While looking through his papers, it became even more clear that John Muir was not only a naturalist, explorer and writer, but he was also an artist. Looking specifically at Muir’s drawings of Half Dome, which he captured from every angle imaginable, you can see his grasp of perspective, shading, texture and scale.
We ended up finding a drawing of Half Dome as seen from the Yosemite Valley floor and decided to find the spot where he stood to capture it. Below are the results from our journey.
If you’re ever in the Stockton area, put the Holt Atherton Archive at the University of the Pacific on your list of stops. It’s a moving, and humbling, experience. Who knows, maybe you’ll get inspired to hike through Yosemite looking for that certain bend in the Merced River.