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It Was Love

Laura Gilpin, the daughter of Emma and Frank Gilpin, was born on April 22, 1891, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Frank first came west in 1880 to help his brother, Bernard in a business venture, The Maryland Cattle Company. The winter of 1886 was severe and disastrous and wiped out

his brother’s burgeoning cattle business. This sent Frank scrambling for work and began a life long pattern of moving from one job to another. He would become an adventurer, cowboy, miner, investor, manager of a hotel and a mine, as well as a cattle rancher. He believed that the west was full of opportunity and possibility, both of which seemed to elude Frank. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that he finally found his niche and settled down as a successful artisan and craftsman of fine furniture.

Laura’s mother, Emma Gosler Miller, grew up in St. Louis and Chicago. Her family and the Gilpin family were friends. Frank convinced her to leave her cultured life in the east and move, as his wife, to the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. While she agreed, she most certainly did not share her husband’s passion for the western way of life. She had been raised in a rich cultural environment and educated at very proper schools. She and Frank settled at their Horse Creek Ranch, but she was very homesick and longed for the cultural stimulation that big cities provided and she was so used to. While living in the wilds of the west she always attempted to bring some culture and refinement to the rustic homesteads. This took on many forms.

When she was expecting her first child, Laura, Emma traveled to the home of an acquaintance in Austin Bluffs, which was 65 miles from their ranch, in order to be closer to a doctor. She was determined to provide the best care for herself and the baby, and this included a safe place for the birth and proper attendants. She certainly did not consider Horse Creek Ranch the best place to deliver her first child!

Quite unlike her mother, Laura thrived on the western way of life. As a child, she loved the outdoors and exploring. Her father encouraged her to explore and to hike and camp in the untamed Colorado landscape. She was distantly related to William Gilpin, the explorer who became

the first territorial governor of Colorado, and to William Henry Jackson, the photographer. As a young girl she knew Dr. William A. Bell, who was the photographer for the Kansas and Pacific Railroad in 1867. Another friend was William Jackson Palmer, engineer, Civil War General and the founder of the town of Colorado Springs and of the Denver Grande Railroad. When she knew him he was elderly but he had a fondness for her and took her horseback-riding, and as they rode the countryside he would point out various plants, trees, and wildlife telling her their names. She recalls: “He taught me to know the outdoors, and especially to love it.” She thrived under his tutelage. She attributed her lifelong passion and dedication to photography to Palmer.

In 1903, when she was twelve, she received a Brownie camera for her birthday. The following year she received a developing tank. She love photography, quickly mastering the early color photographic process, self taught, by following the directions that were enclosed in the supplies. Her talent was very evident and she was blossoming as a photographer, making still lifes from simple subjects she found around the farm.

The following year, she used that little Brownie camera to photograph the St. Louis World’s Fair. She often said this was a very important year in her life. While in St. Louis she visited a family friend, and her namesake “Laura” Perry who was blind. It fell to her to describe each exhibit at the Fair

in fine detail to Laura Perry. They visited the fair nearly daily for a month and Laura Gilpin was Laura Perry’s eyes, describing even minute details for her. She later said “the experience taught me the kind of observation I would have never learned otherwise.”

By 1909 she was making Lumiere autochromes like a professional. This was a very early form of color photography, developed by two brothers in France, using glass plates, potato starch, and color. Her mother was so impressed with her talent she took her back east to meet the amazing

photographer, Gertrude Kasebier, who was a native of Colorado. Kasebier was also impressed with Laura’s work and advised her to train professionally. Kasebier was was an American photographer known for her images