For six months, Ann Foley Scheuring and Dennis Dingemans sifted through UC Davis’ past.
At Shields Library, they took turns choosing from some 4,500 images in the archive collection. They flipped through year upon year of yearbooks. They tracked down scrapbooks, at the Arboretum headquarters and elsewhere.
The result: “University of California, Davis,” the latest entry of the now-familiar Arcadia Publishing series of local history books, with their sepia covers. It includes about 230 photos of campus history, almost all taken before 1980.
One day, in the department of pomology, a staffer rolled out two hand trucks loaded down with 16 boxes of photographs. Another 30 boxes were tucked away on shelves, Dingemans was told, where they’d remained since being spared from a Dumpster.
Here and there, Scheuring, the author of “Abundant Harvest: The History of the University of California, Davis,” and Dingemans, a historical geographer and member of the UCD faculty for more than 30 years, unearthed a treasure.
In one of those boxes from pomology: a 1919 photograph of Margaret Patricia Kelly, looking angelic atop a Picnic Day float of sheaves of grain. Kelly went on to be a weed and seed botanist, and co-author of “Weeds of California.”
When Scheuring completed her narrative history of the university, published in 2001, she felt frustrated by how few pictures she’d been able to include. She likes the immediacy of the new book for just that reason.
“You can look and right away see how people are dressed. I mean, look at this,” she said recently, pointing to the cover image of male students examining grapes at wooden tables. “It just tells you something — a little old viticulture building, what do they call that?”
“Viticulture Field Laboratory,” Dingemans said.
“It’s pretty simple. Look at this furniture. Even looking at the chemistry labs, you can see how primitive they were. They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words. As a writer, I don’t believe that — but a good picture is worth at least 200.”
Scheuring said the book “gives you a sense of an almost sedimentary history: It’s layer upon layer upon layer.” She hopes it will impart to those who care about UCD an appreciation for the richness of UCD’s past and its agricultural roots.
“It has been a long-term effort building a great institution. It started out very simply, but look at it now.”
One find that changed Dingemans’ view of the campus was a 1935 promotional book, with photographs by no less than fame landscape photographer Ansel Adams, titled “The Farm that Became a Campus.”
“We had professors right away who said, ‘This could be Penn State. This could be Wisconsin. This could be Yale. This could be Stanford,’ ” Dingemans said.
“That’s one reason why I like the air photograph that shows College Park as a dignified place where people could have a big house. It wasn’t just a farm town. College Park was appropriately ambitious for 1923.”
He also liked the 1920s and ’30s-era photographs of what would someday be the Arboretum, then little more than a mud hole, presented “in a romantic way” — with yearbook caption writers dutifully struggling to make the place sound special.
Added Scheuring, “I think it was (Chancellor) Emil Mrak who said something like, ‘We’re going to have to make our own beauty here.’ ”
The photo book is for sale at the UC Davis Bookstore, The Avid Reader, Davis Ace, the Hattie Weber Museum, the Gibson House Historical Museum in Woodland and at www.arcadiapublishing.com.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden