George Edward Anderson was a bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church) for four years in the early days of Utah.The legacy he left behind is one of more than 14,000 photographic images of life in the West from the 1870s through the early 1900s. His pictures include people in Utah, Canada, and England (where he served his mission for the church), but the negatives for his Canada and England trips are missing and perhaps lost.
Anderson had a wonderful eye for capturing detail as well as oddities. He was present at a time when the railroad was booming and changing life for the Saints in Utah. Trains are present either in the foreground or the background of many of his images. This was a time when Utah was still largely separated from the rest of the country, but that separation was growing ever smaller.
Anderson’s images included a lot of studio portraits, as well as images which were shot of people in front of their homes or businesses. This characteristic is what makes his work so valuable as a documentation of the history of Utah. He took pictures all over the state, and captured much of the Saints’ experiences in building new communities and settlements. Anderson’s living was mostly made up of the private portraits he took.
Many of Anderson’s images are very touching, including the many images he took after a mining accident in Scofield, Utah, in 1900. His images capture much of the history of this state, including “its piety, its immigration, its stewardship and husbandry . . . [the people’s] grieving, a desert agriculture that strove to create abundance out of desolation, and the West” (“Frontier Utah As Seen By Mormon Bishop, Documentary Photographer,” by Richard Remsberg).
George Anderson died in 1928. As many artists, he was largely unknown during his lifetime. His collection included more than 15,000 glass plate negatives, many of which have survived after passing through several private collections. Many of these are now in repositories, with most of them at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections of the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library. The BYU library has many of these pictures in an online archive.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.