George Beard Photography Exhibit

Born in England in 1854, George Beard immigrated to America in 1868, joining the large-scale migration of Latter-day Saints to Zion. His voyage on boat, train, and then wagon would take more than three months. Upon his arrival in Utah Territory, his family settled in Coalville, where Beard remained for all his life.

As an adult, he became a respected civic leader in the community. In addition to managing Coalville’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution, he also served as both a mayor and LDS bishop in the town, as well as a state legislator, choir leader, and producer and director of community musicals.

By the mid-1800s, Echo Canyon had become a well-traveled path for groups of immigrants to the area, and the Coalville settlement (originally called Chalk Creek) was started in 1858. In the 1870s, the town’s growing political and religious significance was solidified, as demonstrated by the addition of the county courthouse and the formation of the LDS Summit Stake. By the early twentieth century, Coalville had a population of 1200 and about 20 businesses that lined Main Street. Beard’s photographs beautifully capture the transformation of this community across five decades around the turn of the century.

George Beard’s exploration of photography was made possible by the dramatic changes in this medium in the late nineteenth century. This period saw the introduction of faster, easier, and more mass-produced formats, among them the dry-plate negative. This new process was much less expensive than producing daguerreotypes, and eliminated the requirement of a portable darkroom. The plates could be processed days or weeks after exposing them, rather than needing to be done immediately.

Beard was largely a self-taught artist, but he met or sought advice from multiple artists in the region, among them the noted photographer Charles Roscoe Savage. Using his photographs primarily as inspiration for his landscape paintings, it is interesting to note that he developed very few of his many negatives into prints. In fact, of the entire collection housed at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, which comprises 1,761 photographs, only 197 objects are original prints.

Courtesy, Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT