Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

Today, you live in the world he made possible 

You see his passion for understanding nature and his love for all life, in the new visual technologies he  forged to amaze us.  With remarkable courage he made us see and appreciate all life and all people, despite great opposition.
He dedicated his film and cinema tools to our use - giving renewed meaning to the words - 
Love One Another​​
You did not know his name - and it did not matter until now.  
Please watch the short story, click below. Your future depends on it.  

Arthur C. Pillsbury was a visionary who recognized the rise of the elites who bent government to their ends.  Known as the Wildflower Man of Yosemite he was a courageous explorer who let no one stop him, taking his message worldwide.  

Dr. Shlain's studies on the impact of innovations in art on the human mind in his book, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light points to the relationship between art and later insights on physics.  the impact of images from motion pictures on humanity's understanding of the world around them removes the disconnect caused by the varying time frames in which life and changes in the Earth take place.  Pillsbury's work with film, applied to what was beyond human vision was the essential missing element through which living processes could be understood.
from his book “Art & Physics”, page 17
by Leonard Shlain, MD Surgeon:
“In the case of the visual arts, in addition to illuminating, imitating, and interpreting reality, a few artists create a language of symbols for things for which there are yet to be words. Just as Sigmund Freud in his ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’ compared the progress of a civilization’s entire people to the development of a single individual, I propose that the radical innovations of art embody the proverbial stages of new concepts that will eventually change a civilization. Whether an infant or a society on the verge of change, a new way to think about reality begins with the assimilation of unfamiliar images. This collation leads to abstract ideas that only later give rise to a descriptive language.”
Pillsbury used stills routinely but it was his films that changed how we see the world around us and understand the processes of life.  

Look at the images below and witness his connection with people and with all living things.
Then, realize it is in our power to finish what he started.  The tools are now in our hands.

It began in 1895, in the place he loved the most.

  1. flowers in meadow he saved
    flowers in meadow he saved
  2. AC camera in snow
    AC camera in snow
  3. Shooting film in Yosemite
    Shooting film in Yosemite
  4. Mildred Clemens
    Mildred Clemens
  5. Shooting down into the Valley
    Shooting down into the Valley
  6. Miwok Mother in Yosemite
    Miwok Mother in Yosemite
  7. Flow of light and water
    Flow of light and water
  8. Half Dome in the snow
    Half Dome in the snow
  9. First aerial photos Yosemite
    First aerial photos Yosemite
  10. On Overhanging Rock
    On Overhanging Rock
  11. AC standing with pilot next to first plane into Yosemite
    AC standing with pilot next to first plane into Yosemite
  12. Pillsbury Studio and Auditorium in New Village
    Pillsbury Studio and Auditorium in New Village
  13. AC with his gear and Underwater Camera 1930
    AC with his gear and Underwater Camera 1930
  14. AC with his Xray motion picture camera
    AC with his Xray motion picture camera
  15. X-ray film frame of a rose
    X-ray film frame of a rose
  16. Pago-Pago made into a d'orotone
    Pago-Pago made into a d'orotone
  17. The Faerie, AC's balloon used to film rebuilding of SF in 1909, & the 1910 Air Show
    The Faerie, AC's balloon used to film rebuilding of SF in 1909, & the 1910 Air Show
  18. AC with lapse-time camera
    AC with lapse-time camera
  19. Studebaker on the heights of Yosemite 1916
    Studebaker on the heights of Yosemite 1916
  20. Inside new studio Yosemite facing entrance to Auditorium up the steps
    Inside new studio Yosemite facing entrance to Auditorium up the steps
  21. Grace with friends, including Virginia Best and Ellen Boysen, in the meadow
    Grace with friends, including Virginia Best and Ellen Boysen, in the meadow
  22. Skirts could be hazardous. AC encouraged girls to wear pants, leading by example.
    Skirts could be hazardous.  AC encouraged girls to wear pants, leading by example.
  23. AC filming Indian Mary
    AC filming Indian Mary
  24. Underwater at Pago-Pago, recording the colors of fish and underwater plants
    Underwater at Pago-Pago, recording the colors of fish and underwater plants
  25. AC examining flowers in Samoa
    AC examining flowers in Samoa
  26. Samoan Woman with flower
    Samoan Woman with flower
  27. Samoa - Fire Walk Across hot coals
    Samoa - Fire Walk Across hot coals
  28. Samoa Underwater - Coral 1930
    Samoa Underwater - Coral 1930
  29. A gathering of the Samoan people taken by Pillsbury
    A gathering of the Samoan people taken by Pillsbury
  30. Samoans dressed for a festival
    Samoans dressed for a festival
  31. Samoa - Laughing Eyes as d'Orotone
    Samoa - Laughing Eyes as d'Orotone
  32. Hiking in the back country of Yosemite Park
    Hiking in the back country of Yosemite Park
  33. ACP first car over Tioga pass
    ACP first car over Tioga pass

He staged a Revolution for Nature by returning power to the people.
No one knew who did it.  They still don't. Now, we need to tell the Story:

          Arthur C. Pillsbury understood the not yet realized power of Photography & Cinema in the last years of the 1800s. Just having audiences SEE natural wonders could change the direction of our world. Two of his many inventions were finished while he was still an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, the first specimen slicer for a microscope, and the Circuit Panorama Camera, ratio 1:8, was the precursor to Cinemascope and VistaVision.  
         A genius adventurer, recognized today as a Renaissance Man, Pillsbury was also a man of conscience and empathy.  He was confident most of humanity would respond as he did, himself, when they saw with their own eyes the similarities present in all forms of life, in forests, on ice floes, under the sea, and in the air.  He was often the first to be there and record the unknown in film. He dedicated his precision technologies of the era to pioneer understanding of the worlds around us.  Later photojournalists such as Lowell Thomas, with "You Are There" types of photos and television, harken back to Pillsbury, who showed us extreme travel and hardships for us to get the picture.  
        As a scientist, he understood the need for all of us, and academia, to see deeply so they might effectively work with levels of life which were then beyond their ability to see.  University professors were astonished at what they had never seen, just as theatre-goers were. Encouraged, he was determined to extend human vision in all directions, from microscopic to grand vistas.     
      He was determined to extend human vision to the smallest form of life and matter, and from there to the stars. He began inspiring people everywhere with the beauty of life, and its likeness to our own lives.  Using the cameras he invented, he opened human minds to the sense we are all parts of one whole.
       Today we call it "Open Source."  Pillsbury published the instructions in 1937 for other film-makers and scientists could build his inventions in what he called the "Knowledge Commons."   He patented his Mass Production Photo Postcard Machine to lower his costs and so put more money into developing his new cameras, promoting tourism to the natural wonders which became the National Parks.  John Muir asked Arthur Pillsbury to supply the photos for his last, most impactive book, "The Yosemite."  
          You might have seen the photo of Teddy Roosevelt standing next to John Muir on the rim of Yosemite Valley.  
        President Calvin Coolidge was amazed when he viewed Pillsbury's films and lecture at the Willard Hotel in 1926 with seventy of his friends.  With others on America's lecture circuits, he shared billing with such as General Smedley Butler, Amelia Earhart, and Clarence Darrow, electrifying audiences with thought-provoking challenges.
       Life depends on the matrix of matter which nurtures us. As a brilliant engineer, he knew that matter which forms our world must also be respected by being understood as both Geology and Biology.  For this purpose, he used cinema to reach millions.  His voice moved people with his words and passion to change policy and revisit their assumptions about our world.  How? By seeing for themselves.   
     Later, he would be a pioneer of Sound-On-Film.  His silent and sound nature films included time-lapse, underwater, microscopic, anthropological, X-Ray, Aviation, Photo Journalism and panorama. He invented the cameras and motion picture cameras to make these possible. Just one narrated Lapse-time film included at least 80,000 timed frames.  His movies were distributed by Pathe, Universal,  Paramount, and others worldwide. 
      The integration of life, the energy which powers us, and the matter which life uses to frame its space in the osmotic flow of time and movement, he allowed us to see as the whole of which everything is a part.  Chaos and Order both needed to be preserved, on film and in our minds. 
      "Love One Another," he believed, did not stop with our own species.
    Seeing the potential of film, as an extension of photography, he made and showed the first nature movie in 1909, making this a regular feature at the Pillsbury Studio in Yosemite in 1910. Sadly, his friend, John Muir, was dissuaded from using film in his battle for the Hetch-Hetchy, the Other Yosemite, now a reservoir for the enrichment of real estate developers from San Francisco. 
     It began in Yosemite. But soon his voice and films were reaching across America, and then across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
     He viewed the sale of postcards as a way to spread the message more widely, inexpensive enough so everyone could possess an image of compelling beauty.  The same images, printed as postcards or small photos packaged to be used in the photo album of a tourist, were also sold framed for hanging on walls.  This reflects how Pillsbury saw himself and his photographic work.  For him, these were literature, eloquence in an image,  for understanding the natural world.     
      Many people of insight have understood, with shock and awe, the magnitude of Grandfather’s vision. I received the email below from Michael Tobin, Ph.D., of the Dancing Star Foundation.

“We are clearly in concurrence on all of these technical, scientific, artistic and critical ecological/historic points. Your grandfather, if I may opine freely, reminds me of Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus: poet/scientist/activist, and largely unheralded genius of his age.

There deserves to be a Nazraeli Press-type major book devoted to Arthur Clarence Pillsbury - highlighting the evolution of his innovations and their importance, both in his time and our own; the ecological context; his geopolitical prescience with respect to an egalitarian orientation towards human intergenerational parity (as I read it); an open and free society that is fully integrated with the biophilia inherent to all successful life on earth, and the sheer wisdom of his passions, and the beauty and range of his creations; not to mention their impact - whether most people know it or not - on the lives of billions of people.”

The Pillsbury Studio in Yosemite - 1907

      When you walked into the Pillsbury Studio, either the one in Old Village, which he purchased in 1906 and began operating in 1907, you found a Nature Center.  Every part of the operation was carried out by people who had learned about nature and were ready to tell you about what you saw around you.  
          Postcards, specimen cards, framed images, books, and through the explanations available to you guaranteed you would leave better informed than when you entered.  But beyond this, you left eager to view the films which were shown three times a week, free to the public.  
         Nearly everyone who listened, spell-bound to the showing is gone now, but the impact remains.  
        Arthur C. Pillsbury was described as a speaker who held the attention of everyone in the room, weaving in his words with the images which flowed before you on the screen.
        Pillsbury's ability to arrest your interest, leaving you rapt and your mind reeling, surprised everyone who knew him because Arthur C. Pillsbury was a quiet, retiring man until he began to talk about what he loved.  The specimen cards below were tinted by the same young men and women who worked at the Pillsbury Studios in Yosemite.  On the backs were facts about the plants and their flowers.  If you had sat down to watch and listen to one of the Nature Films which Pillsbury narrated himself, you would have seen the world through his eyes.  Read this brochure written in 1926 about Pillsbury.   His films changed every season.  

Life Secrets of Wild Flowers
                                                                                 1.  SCENIC REEL of YOSEMITE AND THE HIGH SIERRA
                                                                                            2. WILD FLOWERS GROWING AND OPENING
                                                                                            3. TREES - THEIR LIFE STORIES,  MOSS AND FERNS 
                                                                                            4. THE BIOLOGY OF THE FLOWERS SHOWING MANY
                                                                                                MICROSCOPIC VIEWS
                                                                                           5.  BIRD AND ANIMAL LIFE
  1. Managing Director
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Flower Identification Cards

     At the Studio, tourists could purchase packets of Flower Identification Cards which they took into the Meadows to study the many species of flowers that grew there.  
              Cards came in two kinds, landscape cards, which showed the tourist were the species grew, and close-ups which enabled accurate identification.  
          The cards were printed on both sides.  The front with the image, and the back with information on the habits of the plant.  
             Each card was hand-tinted at the Studio by young people who came to the Valley in the summer from Berkeley and Stanford to work and enjoy the Valley. There, they also learned about the natural world, photography, and technologies that Pillsbury used in his work.  
             There were generally about ten young people working for Grandfather, young men and women, many of them friends of the three Pillsbury children, Ernest, Grace, and Arthur.  
              The cards could have been produced by a printer but Pillsbury wanted the Pillsbury KIDS to have friends with whom they could enjoy their time in the Valley.  

The first time Pillsbury visited Yosemite he bicycled from Stanford, where he was a student, in 1895.  Susan B. Anthony, an old acquaintance of his mother, Dr. Harriet Foster Pillsbury, had urged him to go.  There, standing in a meadow, wildflowers reaching toward his waist, he fell in love with the natural world and became determined to extend human perception to include all living things.  


In 1898 he took his newly invented Circuit Panorama Camera to the Yukon, photographing Inuits and the opening of the mining fields.   On his way to the Yukon, he was ship-wrecked, rescuing himself and his father, Dr. Harlin Henry Pillsbury, who accompanied him to Juneau.  Traveling alone in a canoe he had modified to be a dark room, he chronicled new towns being born from the headwaters of the Yukon River to the Pacific, a journey of 2,600 miles.  It was just the beginning of a life poured into turning people toward respect for all life, the integrity of the world which surrounds us, and our rights, personal and property, as individuals to decide our own destinies.    Pillsbury Partial Autobiography

The Pillsbury Studio

Post Office, General Store

The Old Village of Yosemite 1915 (Pillsbury Photo)

Pillsbury made and showed the first nature movie in 1909 at the Pillsbury Studio in Old Village.

Determined that people see the similarities between all life, he filmed 500 separate species
of wildflowers in just Yosemite, using his newly invented lapse-time camera in 1912.

And yet you have never heard of him or his accomplishments.

No Centennial for the first-ever Nature Movie, 1909, shown in Yosemite

No Centennial for the first-ever change in policy by showing one film. 
October 14 - 16 -   Superintendents Conference,  Yosemite 
(How often has THAT happened in history?)

Produced the First Lapse-Time Camera - The Wildflowers

First showing Lapse-Time Nature Movie -  1912.

No Centennial or other recognition from the Sierra Club for the  films which vastly increased their flow of new members.  1915.

Will there be a Centennial on the first color films of flowers? - 1921.

Designed and built the First Mass Production Post Card Machine - 1917

Will there be a Centennial for the first microscopic motion picture camera and film? - 1926

Below is a story everyone today needs to see. ​​

High Trip of the Sierra Club taken by Arthur C. Pillsbury, who filmed and  photographed it each year.