Ayes worked as an engineering draftsman painting oils and watercolors in his spare time before leaving the East Coast to pursue his fortune in the California Gold Rush of 1849. After a short stint in the mines, he began sketching his way through the mining camps from 1850-1854 creating black and white drawings in charcoal and graphite. Capitalizing on the popularity of huge panoramas of western landscapes, in 1854 Ayres commissioned Thomas A. Smith to make a large panorama painting, titled “Panorma of California,” from forty six of his original drawings of the early mining days in California. This panorama painting was exhibited in San Francisco and in McNulty’s Hall in Sacramento before traveling east. (Driesbach, 1998)
By 1855 he was hired by San Francisco journalist James Mason Hutchings to illustrate a magazine, Hutchings Illustrated California Magazine. The two organized the first trip to Yosemite Valley not by Native Americans or a military expedition. They hired two Native American guides and in five days Ayes produced thirteen landscape views, the earliest known views of the valley. A year later Ayres returned to Yosemite and the drawings from that second trip were taken back East for exhibition at the American Art Union in New York in 1857. The drawings were so well received that Ayres received more requests for reproductions of these drawing than he could fill. (Driesbach, 1998) In the same year Ayres was hired by Harper’s Illustrated Weekly to make a series of illustrations of California.
Ayres career was cut short when he drown at sea along with all passengers on a clipper ship in 1858 returning to San Francisco from a sketching trip for Harper’s Weekly in Southern California. His works are rare because of his short career and valuable as some of the earliest documentation of California and San Francisco. Many of his drawings were reproduced by stone lithographers and published in magazines or reproduced as prints for sale. The Society of California Pioneers is fortunate to have ten original drawings and four prints from this early pioneer artist.
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Driesbach, Janice T., Harvey L. Jones, and Katherine Church Holland. 1998. Art of the Gold Rush. University of California Press.
Hughes, Edan Milton. 2002. Artists in California 1786-1940. Third Edition. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum.
Kruska, Dennis. 2012. “Thomas A.mond Ayres 1855.” Bulletin. California State Library Foundation, Number 103.