Carleton Watkins                        Homo Faber—Man as Maker



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Panama around the time Huntington and the others boarded the sailing ship Alexander von Humboldt on May 20, 1849.  The group minus Carleton headed north on a three-month journey to seek their fortunes in California.  With money in his pockets, Carleton could afford to follow the instincts of the latent artist that he was and head down the Pacific Coast of the southern hemisphere, drawn there by what he knew of it by word of mouth from travelers in Panama City.

           Carleton had several things in common with Vance that would have facilitated an encounter:  they were descended from families who arrived in America before the Revolutionary War; they were born and raised in rural locations of the American Northeast; and despite their privileges, both showed dissatisfaction with their respective family situations that compelled their endless travel [Fig. 1, top left].  However, there were major differences:  Carleton was raised by God-fearing parents whose most extravagant entertainment was the annual July 4 celebration and dinner organized by his father.[8] 

          By comparison, Vance's father, according to Peter Palmquist, had multiple wives, fathered children out of wedlock, and used his stately Maine residence as "often the scene of wild orgies."[9]  About this situation Palmquist further observed: "Robert Vance's personality was profoundly affected by the events of his childhood and early adolescent years."[10]     

          Another difference was that Vance could do whatever he wanted with his life because his inherited wealth gave him the freedom to do so.[11]  Carleton, on the other hand, despite his well-fixed family, was always dependent on income he earned and on the generosity of his friends.

          Vance's life in Chile was completely unrecorded in the literature of photography before Alexander published his research in 1993, hence, the thread of the Watkins-Vance story hangs chiefly on what is known of the time Vance spent in Chile. Alexander established that Vance arrived in Valparaiso early in 1847, not long after receiving the first installment of his inheritance in the amount of USD 4,000 in late 1846 at the age of twenty-one.  Wealth enabled the flexibility to choose between many different options for how to spend his life. 


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[8] See Chasing Aurora, Chapter Two.

[9] Peter E. Palmquist, "Robert H. Vance: The Maine and Boston Years (1825- c.1850), The Daguerreian Annual 1991, 202 (hereafter cited as PEP 1991).

[10] PEP 1991, 200.

[11] PEP 1991, 204. Vance received USD 4,000 in 1846 and USD 2,000 in 1848.