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Show and Tel: An Exhibit With Mountain of Interest

March 07, 1985|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Some men move mountains. Some photograph them. A few have mountains named after them. Ansel Adams did all three, and with unparalleled style.

The famous photographer and environmentalist who captured the wonders of Yosemite National Park and other natural splendors for about 70 years spent the last five years of his life poring over 40,000 negatives to choose a museum set of 75 that would represent a broad scope of his best work.

Pacific Telesis Group, a telecommunications holding company with headquarters in San Francisco, acquired the treasured set and will display it around the world in an effort to publicize the company.

"Absolutely, that's what it's for," said Donald E. Guinn, chairman of the group. "We want people to see this exhibit and get to know our company better."

Twenty-two of the photographs were displayed for one night this week at the National Gallery of Art at a black-tie tribute to Adams and his widow, Virginia Adams. The Adams show, the first public display of an expansive collection of his works, opens at the National Gallery in October and stays through January, 1986.

An impressive cross section of Who's Who in Washington attended the dinner in honor of Adams, including Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Walter and Joan Mondale, Sens. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and more than a dozen members of Congress from California.

At the elegant dinner, where orchids rose delicately from the centers of smoke-blue tables around a fountain in the gallery, the acting director of the National Park Service, Mary Lou Grier, explained how a bureaucratic mountain had been moved in order to name a Yosemite peak Mt. Ansel Adams.

"It required bending of the rules," Grier said. "The rules say that names shall not be created for geographical features in wilderness areas, and that one year must pass after the death of a person before naming something after him." (Adams died April 22, 1984.)

Both rules were bypassed in Adams' case. The peak named for him, jutting up about 11,000 feet on the southwest boundary of Yosemite National Park, is featured in one of his famous photographs, "Peaks and Meadow, Lyell Fork of the Merced River, c. 1943."

Battle Recalled

Some people at the party recalled that late in his life, Adams was battling with the Park Service and the Reagan Administration over plans to develop parklands.

Rep. Leon E. Panetta, a Carmel Valley Democrat, who worked with Adams on legislation to protect the Big Sur coastline, ventured a guess at what Adams' reaction might have been to the naming of the mountain by the Park Service.

"I think Ansel's comment would be, 'I'd much prefer you do your damn job than name a mountain after me,' " said Panetta, wandering through the exhibition at the party.

Weinberger dismissed Adams' recent run-ins with the Administration, which included a well-publicized visit with the President.

"He may not have approved of everything we did," said Weinberger, who knew Adams personally when they served together on the board of the Yosemite Institute. "But he was a great man and a great photographer. And he would have continued to understand the things we need to do. After all, he was a great believer in freedom."

Many members of Congress from California recalled his lobbying efforts in Washington on behalf of preserving wilderness areas.

'Assault on Scenery'

"He, Leon Panetta and I fought against Jim Watt's assault on our beautiful ocean scenery," said Rep. Robert T. Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat. "Ansel was the one who really called it to the attention of the American people. Without him, Congress wouldn't have been able to show the leadership to counter the assault on our shorelines."

Looking at Adams' photographs, Matsui had another thought.

"The interesting thing is, all these important people here will be long forgotten but history will appreciate what we see on these walls," he said.

Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead, a Republican from Glendale, was anxious to point out that a slew of Republicans was there to honor Adams: Reps. Ed Zschau of Los Altos, Jerry Lewis of San Bernardino, Gene Chappie of Chico and Al McCandless of Palm Desert. The GOP contingent mingled with the likes of Democratic Reps. Anthony C. Beilenson of Los Angeles and Sala Burton of San Francisco, who said, "Leon (Panetta) was his (Adams') congressman, but he really belonged to the whole (California) delegation."

Moorhead said, "I think all of us from California are environmentalists."

Metzenbaum, gazing at a print with Pacific Telesis vice chairman Sam Ginn, said, "I only have two letters on my office wall, one from Hubert Humphrey and one from Ansel Adams."

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