Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This post focuses (!) on a pair of remarkable daguerreotype portraits from the 1850s, with one of William Workman and his daughter, Antonia Margarita, and the other of Margarita with her husband, F.P.F. Temple.
It is not known exactly when these were taken, with the date of 1852 passed down by family members who had the original daguerreotypes, nor is the location known. There were a couple of photographers who advertised in the first newspaper in Los Angeles, the Star, at the time, though samples of their work have not yet seen the light of day. It is also possible they were taken in San Francisco, a much larger city with a number of photographers working there.
In any case, the photographs are striking for several reasons. To this observer, the main reason is the beautiful dress Margarita sports. The plaid-patterned garment has a lustrous sheen like taffeta silk and her embroidered collar with a cameo at the front and her fine veil add to the appeal. Her ensemble is evidence of a woman keenly aware of fashion and with the money to afford what was certainly a costly item.
As for F.P.F., he wears what looks to be a good quality suit, with a waistcoat, trousers, vest, high collar and cravat. He obviously wore a hat to the studio and removed it for the portrait and take a look at his hairstyle, cut short above the ears and allowed to “fan out” by being grown out almost to the top of his collar.
Clearly, this is a prosperous couple. F.P.F., who was a clerk in the Los Angeles store of his half-brother, Jonathan, until the dawn of the Gold Rush in 1849, was expanding into ranching and farming. He also served as the second Los Angeles city treasurer in 1851 and 1852, followed with a term on the first county Board of Supervisors in 1852.
The second photo appears as if F.P.F. simply stood up and went off to the side, while his father-in-law, Workman, took the same seat on the plain wood bench next to his daughter, who has some of her father’s features (nose and lips, for example), but has the dark skin tone and eye color from her mother, Nicolasa Urioste, a native of Taos, New Mexico (as was Margarita) who was almost cetainly part-Spanish and part-Pueblo Indian.
It is striking, however, that, while Margarita has almost the same pose, though she sits straighter than in the image with her husband, her father looks much different than F.P.F. It seems the photographer asked Workman to place his right hand on his right leg, just as F.P.F. did, but look at the elder man’s appearance.
Whereas Temple’s hair is neatly combed, Workman’s is somewhat askew, as if he doffed his hat and didn’t take the time to do a little “touch up”! While F.P.F. had his coat carefully buttoned, his father-in-law left his wide open and the left side is slightly turned out. Not only that, but the left side of Workman’s collar is turned up. Generally, his clothing does not have the quality of that of his son-in-law and it is certainly more rumpled! Finally, by crossing his legs at the ankles, Workman’s sitting position is much less formal and relaxed.
Finally, another striking aspect to Workman’s appearance is the intense gaze of his light-colored (likely blue) eyes. Temple has a mild, pleasant look on his face, compared to the sterner, steelier countenance of the older man.
These photos are among the earliest Workman and Temple family photographs that are known to exist and there are few enough as it is, as this blog will show over time. So, check back for other examples in the “Portrait Gallery” series.