Madera County—besides being our former home, is the home of Oakhurst and Bass Lake and part of Yosemite National Park. How is it connected to the 16 President (Lincoln) and the soon-to-be 44th President, Barack Obama? To know the answer, we have to go back in time.
Thomas Hill was born in England in 1829, when he was 15, immigrated to the United States with his family where they settled in Taunton, Massachusetts. At the age of 24, Hill started attending evening classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). During his time as a student, he became interested in mountain landscapes, and often travelled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to use them as a backdrop. In 1856 (for unknown reasons), Hill and his family moved to San Francisco, California.
Thomas Hill, c. 1880
During this time, Hill continued to draw and paint mountain scenes. Apparently, he made his first trip to Yosemite Valley in 1865, and made annual pilgrimages to the Yosemite area. He also visited Mt Shasta, and even made a trip to Alaska. His frequent travels, unfortunately, had a negative impact on his marriage. In the 1880s, after 20+ years of marriage and 9 kids, he and his wife were divorced.
Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite c.1870
When the artist was seventy, he was described as, "The most ardent devotee at the shrine of Yosemite and the most faithful priest of the valley.” His enormous Yosemite panoramas were purchased by many of the social and business leaders of San Francisco, and he enjoyed a life of semi-celebrity for many years.
Mount Lafayette in Winter
Towards the end of his life, Hill maintained a studio at the Wawona Hotel, and also had a home in nearby Raymond, California (just below Oakhurst). Hill was very prolific; it’s estimated he completed over 5,000 paintings of Yosemite. Tragically, he had a stroke in 1896 which greatly hampered his painting ability. He died on June 30, 1908 in Raymond, CA.
Now. . .how is that relevant?
Since 1953, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) has been hosting an Inaugural Luncheon for the new President and Vice-President immediately following the swearing-in ceremonies. It is held inside the Capitol, in the Old House Chamber (also known as Statuary Hall), and it usually features cuisine reflecting the home states of the new President and Vice President, as well as the theme of the Inauguration.
Additionally, an historical painting is traditionally used as the backdrop for the event. In 2005, an Albert Bierstadt painting, “Wind River, Wyoming” (in honor of VP Dick Cheney’s home state) was used as the backdrop.
Albert Bierstadt, Wind River Wyoming
The 2005 Inaugural Luncheon with the Bierstadt painting in the background.
The backdrop for the current luncheon will be Thomas Hill’s painting, "View of the Yosemite Valley" chosen for occasion and borrowed from the New York Historical Society. The painting reflects the majestic landscape of the American West and the dawn of a new era. The subject of the painting, Yosemite Valley, represents an important but often overlooked event from Lincoln's presidency—his signing of the 1864 Yosemite Grant, which set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as a public reserve.
Yellowstone National Park is often celebrated at the first National Park (established in 1872), but it’s vital to remember that the Yosemite Grant was the first piece of federal property ever protected in the United States and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone.
There you have it…from Lincoln to Yosemite back to Washington, DC, all in 13 easy paragraphs.
You can read all about the luncheon, and even check out the menu, here: