Found Photographs Reveal Work of Previously Unknown Photographer

Found Photographs Reveal Work of Previously Unknown Photographer

After an estate sale in Santa Paula, California, an old shoe box of curled up photographs taken in Mexico in 1936 was found in the dusty basement. They turned out to be the work of an immensely talented photographer who was not known outside his immediate family. That photographer was Garfield Merner who spent a month deep in Mexico traveling with his family.

Merner's obituary published by The New York Times on February 29, 1972 described him thusly:

Garfield David Merner, industrialist, philanthropist and past president of the Pfeiffer Medical Research Foundation in New York, died on Sunday. He was 89 years old. With his first wife, Benetta, who died in 1958, Mr. Merner founded in 1929 the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, Calif., an arts and crafts shopping center. During World War II, he was director of the American Red Cross supply service in the Pacific area.

Merner was one of three photographers to tour Mexico in 1936 as part of a larger group from the Padua Hills Playhouse in Claremont, California. They traveled to Mexico to collect inspiration for costumes and choreography for the “Mexican Players,” a popular performance troupe established at Padua Hills. Their photographs are now being exhibited publicly for the first time at the Santa Paula Art Museum through June 11, 2017. This important collection reveals everyday life in Mexico much more deeply than any commercial or news photographs from the time could. Viewing the vintage snapshots brings a greater sense of connection and appreciation to the human story of our close neighbors in Mexico and brings up memories of our own family heritage.

Click on any image to enlarge.