Virginia Best Adams: The Woman Behind The Legend

(The Ansel Insider)

Virginia and Azaleas, Yosemite National Park, 1927

Virginia Best and Ansel Adams met in Yosemite in 1921. It was during one of Ansel’s first summers in the park, and as an enthusiastic young musician at the time, his time in the mountains posed a dilemma: where to practice his music? If Ansel wanted to fulfill his dreams of becoming a concert pianist, taking a three-month hiatus every summer would not do. As fortune would have it, that summer Ansel was introduced to Harry Best, the owner of Best’s Studio, who kindly allowed him to practice on his old Chickering square piano. Ansel Hall, the first naturalist of the National Park System, made the introduction, and his son Roger is still great friends with Michael and Jeanne Adams, Ansel Adams’ son 100 years later. 

Harry Best had a seventeen-year-old daughter named Virginia, who had a beautiful contralto voice and thought about planning a career as a classical singer. Ansel became enamored with more than just the Chickering piano when he began spending his time practicing in Virginia’s company. In his autobiography Ansel recalls: “We found considerable mutual interests in music, in Yosemite, and it turned out, in each other.”


Virginia Best with a friendly Bear, Yosemite Valley, California, c. 1925 (Collection of Michael and Jeanne Adams)

Having spent most of summers of her childhood in Yosemite, Virginia knew the landscape well and shared her knowledge of its wonders with Ansel. The two spent more and more time together, and shared a reverence for both the grandeur and delicacy of the natural world all around them. As Yosemite underwent the ever-growing commercialization we see to this day, Virginia and Ansel confided in one another their dismay for development at the cost of the degradation of their beloved wild spaces. Said Ansel, “From the first years of friendship, I felt a rightness about the two of us. We were comfortable together.”

In the winter of 1927, Ansel arrived to celebrate the New Year of 1928 with Virginia. It was then, after six years off and on of courting, that Ansel officially proposed and Virginia accepted. The two had gone back and forth on their engagement; exchanging letters and visits all the while. Ansel wanted to be more sure of his career before an official wedding celebration, and thought they were too young to be taken seriously. On January 2, 1928, just three days after the proposal, they were married at Best’s Studio in Yosemite Valley with family and close friends. Ansel recalled the night:

“Virginia did not have time to buy a wedding dress and so she wore her best dress, which happened to be black. With perhaps a trace of scorn for tradition, along with a coat and tie, I wore knickers and my trusty basketball shoes.”

Virginia and Ansel’s wedding day, January 2, 1928, in front of Harry Cassie Best painting

The events of the evening made for quite an adventurous wedding night. First, while he was putting chains on Harry Best’s Dodge—loaned as the honeymoon getaway car—best friend and best man Cedric Wright lost the ring Ansel’s parents had entrusted to his care. He found it in the slush under the car just in time for the ceremony. Next, Virginia, Ansel, Cedric and friend Ernst Bacon headed out of Yosemite Valley towards Berkeley, when on their way they had a flat tire. The jack would not fit under the car so they had to uproot a nearby mailbox post to use as a lever. Wrote Ansel, “The tire was exchanged, the mailbox post set back in its hole, and we continued on to Berkeley, arriving at Cedric’s unheated home at midnight. Our bed was a roll-away, but we were so weary that it made no difference to us that night.”

After their marriage, Ansel’s career—which had shifted to photography—began to take off. It was through Virginia that Yosemite became a constant in his life, a place he eventually made famous through his photographs of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Merced River. At the time, the only residents of Yosemite were expected to be employed there, making a livelihood, or the family members of those who were doing so. Thus, Ansel’s rather constant presence was legitimate. It also afforded him opportunities of access in all times of day and night and all seasons—essential for really knowing a place.

Harry Best in front of Best’s Studio in Yosemite National Park, which still stands today as The Ansel Adams Gallery

It was 1936 when Virginia’s father suddenly passed. She inherited Best’s Studio, and for 36 years, ran what is now The Ansel Adams Gallery. In the process of running the family business, Virginia helped give her husband the wherewithal for him to do his photographic work. Virginia and Ansel wanted to sell high quality merchandise rather than stocking cheap curios as Yosemite souvenirs. It was through this new business model that the gallery began selling a series of Ansel Adams photographs called “special edition prints.” Sales of these prints, as well as profits from Southwestern jewelry, handcrafts, rugs and ceramics, provided a steady income so that Ansel might travel to pursue his photography. Virginia accompanied Ansel on a good deal of his travels, especially traveling to the Southwest to establish lasting partnerships with Indian traders and artisans whose work she represented and sold.

Ansel Adams, “Dogwoods,” Yosemite Special Edition Photograph from the series started in 1958. Exclusively from The Ansel Adams Gallery, these gelatin silver prints are handcrafted by Ansel’s last assistant Alan Ross.

Virginia’s hard work supported both her growing family, which included son Michael and daughter Anne, and also financed the publication of two of her husband’s books, “My Camera in the National Park,” and “My Camera in Yosemite.” She was also gracious, and with a knack for entertaining visitors and making them feel welcome, Virginia nurtured a community that surrounded The Ansel Adams Gallery. The studio was a fun hub of cultural activity in Yosemite Valley, bringing together mountaineer friends, artists, and musicians who were talented and loved to party together. Virginia and Ansel’s children, Michael and Anne, would sometimes sneak down and sit out of view on the stairs and listen to music and happy friends late at night. 

Life then was pretty slow. Virginia had some bells on the front door that alerted her that someone had entered the studio while she was at home upstairs. She would give them 10 or 15 minutes to see what was there and then she’d go down and help them out. Jeanne Adams remembers their family at the dining room table having lunch and strangers coming up and through the house to use the bathroom. The space was friendly, simple, primitive, and invited people in as there were not many services available to the visitor at that time. One of the distinguishing features of Virginia and Ansel’s life in Yosemite was their inclusiveness, that regardless of possible frictions between “company” and “government,” Best’s Studio and the hospital were always friendly and easy places to be and socialize.

Anne, Virginia, and Michael, c. 1941

For the most part, Virginia was content to be in the background. A bit camera shy and according to an article in the LA Times, “not generally at ease with reporters,” she once summed up her contribution by saying simply, “I guess I’m the one who just tried to keep things going.” But Virginia did more than that—she nurtured a space with undeniable goodwill, one that still celebrates the arts and the environment in the heart of Yosemite, and which is enjoying its 117th year in operation.

Beyond The Ansel Adams Gallery, Virginia was an active environmentalist and served on the board of directors of the Sierra Club from 1931-33 when her son Michael was born. Then, Ansel ran for the board member seat and won and continued for decades. Virginia was also a Trustee of the Yosemite Natural History Association, and a mountaineer. She has been credited with making the first ascent by a woman of a route on Mt. Whitney in the Kaweah area in what is now Sequoia National Park. It is with Virginia’s guidance and roots in Yosemite, steadfast care for the family business, and lifetime support of Ansel’s work that we have grown to know so well and love Yosemite National Park and the American West.

Virginia (second from the left) with friends during a Sierra Club Outing. Courtesy of the Adams Family memorabilia archives.

Snow & Ice | January 2020

For questions or inquiries on artwork in this catalog, please email the gallery at or call 888.238.9244. Keep exploring Ansel Adams artwork with Yosemite Special Edition Photographs or archival print Modern Replicas.

32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers

Photograph by Brittany Colt

Photograph by Blake Johnston

To Ansel Adams, furthering the art and education of photography was paramount. He advocated for the importance of bringing new and younger minds into the field. He encouraged them to seek original ways of interpreting the world as they saw it through their lens. As the popularity of photography grew throughout the late 20th century,

Photograph by Christine Loberg

Photograph by Dillon Engstrom

The Ansel Adams Gallery brought in permanent staff photographers to become onsite educators available to a growing collection of park guests looking to learn more about their cameras and the visual mysteries of the park. The benefits were mutual, with visitors liberally absorbing committed and dedicated knowledge about photography in a place steeped in photographic tradition, while the staff had year-round unfettered access to a big back yard of natural wonders.

Photograph by Evan Russel

Photograph by Mike Reeves

Opening at The Ansel Adams Gallery on January 5th, 2020 and running through February 22nd, 2020, “32 Degrees of Winter: Images by Resident Photographers” explores an array of contemporary work being made by our current group of full-time instructors and staff members as they have come to see the most enigmatic and polarizing season of the year: Winter. Pieces on display will consist of platinum prints to digital photographs, all original in origin. A reception for the artists will be held on Sunday, January 19th, from 1-3pm with several staff members in attendance, each of them a part of a rich history here in Yosemite and eager to share their stories and work.

Photograph by Kirk Keeler

Photograph by Michael Wise

Ansel Adams Holiday Gift Guide

Upcoming Exhibition: Light on the Landscape – Photographs by William Neill

  • Clearing winter storm, Sentinel Rock, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1990
  • Half Dome and elm, winter Yosemite National Park, California
  • Rising Mist at sunrise, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
  • El Capitan and Merced River, winter sunset, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1984
  • Aspens in winter, Conway Summit, Inyo National Forest, 1995
  • Black oaks, Merced River and El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1985
  • Clearing winter storm, Sentinel Rock, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1990
  • Dawn, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada 1995
  • Dogwood in Bloom
  • Black oak and El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California 1982
  • Giant Sequoia trees, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California 1993
  • Sierra Moonrise
  • Half Dome, Elm and Sunbeams, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
  • Half Dome and elm tree, winter, Yosemite National Park, California 1990
  • Red maple leaves and mud pattern, Zion National Park, Utah
  • Spring storm, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1986
  • Rising Mist at sunrise, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
  • Two Humpback Whales and Iceberg, Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica 2014


Join Us for William Neill’s Artist Reception on November 23rd from 1-3pm

In 1977, photographer William Neill found his life’s path redirected when he moved to Yosemite to work for the National Park Service. Not long after this, he began working at The Ansel Adams Gallery as a staff photographer, teaching visitors all he could about the art form and the place that he loved. Mr. Neill has said that: “Perhaps one of the greatest joys of being a photographer to me is to see the light on the landscape, seeing its daily cycles change with each season and shift with each day’s weather. I revel in the light. I am its disciple.” While other itinerant interests would take him on adventures far and wide, from the American Southwest to the Himalaya to Antarctica, he would make Yosemite his permanent home.

His life in photography since has been an amazing journey as witnessed by the incredible and intimate imagery that has resulted, as well as the numerous books and articles written in the process. Between November 17th, 2019 and January 4th, 2020, The Ansel Adams Gallery will be exhibiting “Light on the Landscape – Photographs by William Neill” featuring work made throughout an illustrious career. A reception with the artist will be held on Saturday, November 23rd from 1-3pm, on what will no doubt be a beautiful autumn day in the park!

An Artist Reception with Martino Hoss

Celebrating the solo exhibition “Yosemite Reunion: Impressions of a Park

This past weekend, West Coast landscape artist Martino Hoss joined our gallery in Yosemite in celebration of his new solo exhibition. Hoss shared stories of his prolific and versatile career as an artist, where he has explored many mediums including pastels on copper, painting, serigraphs, block prints, monotypes, pen & ink drawings, mobiles and murals.

In his exhibition “Yosemite Reunion: Impressions of a Park,” Hoss has created a luminous body of work using pastels on copper—a medium that he works in to bring out the inner light of the landscapes he composes.

Martino Hoss and Tracy Lorenz at the opening reception of his show.

The metallic, warm quality of the copper shines through the vibrancy of the soft pastels, offering a jewel-like representation of the Yosemite’s majesty.

At the reception, many friends and art lovers gathered to experience Hoss’ work in person. Elegantly framed to protect the delicacy of each piece, Martino Hoss’ work provides viewers with a sensual interpretation of the atmospheric light so particular to the Yosemite landscape.

Enjoy this collection of moments from the reception. To view the full exhibition, please see our collection of Martino Hoss pastels on copper.

For questions about the artwork, or to preview a particular piece in your home, contact us at With a little bit of photoshop magic, we can superimpose the piece in your space, helping you to complete your vision.


Ansel Adams’ take on Yosemite National Park

Katia Hetter, CNN • Published 14th October 2019

(CNN) — To Matthew Adams, Ansel Adams was simply his grandpa.

Growing up in Fresno, California, Matthew would spend time with him during short summer vacations in Yosemite National Park, where his grandfather taught photography workshops.

“He was definitely a part of our lives, but I actually didn’t really grasp his national importance until after he had passed away” in 1984, said Adams, who was in high school at the time.

“He was Grandpa Ansel,” said Adams, 52. “I would have loved to have sat down over a beer with him (as an adult).”

Adams has become an expert on his renowned grandfather’s photography and conservation work, serving as president of The Ansel Adams Gallery.

His great-grandparents, Harry and Anne Best, first launched it as a summer gallery inside a tent. It has been located inside Yosemite National Park in one form or another since 1902…read more on

Martino Hoss: Yosemite’s Inner Light

Our gallery is excited to present an ethereal body of work by multimedia artist Martino Hoss, an artist with a deep and rich tie to Yosemite National Park. In an interview with our gallery, Martino shares stories of his greatest inspiration—his grandmother, pivotal moments that informed his artistic career, and the essence of Yosemite he is able to capture in the luminous medium of pastel on copper.

Martino Hoss, Fleeting Light, Pastel on Copper, 16×10 in. framed to 24×18 in.

What drove you to be an artist?

MH: Growing up, my grandmother was an artist, and she was probably one of the biggest influences in my life. Also, my aunt Mary who was my father’s cousin. She was also an artist and she did a lot of work of Yosemite. But my grandmother I think as the biggest influence.

How did your grandmother influence you to become an artist?

MH: My grandmother, Della Taylor Hoss, lived in Palo Alto and when I was a small child we used to take walks [there]. We would pick up seed pods and stuff like that and bring them back to her studio, and she would draw. She had a little place [in her house] called the ”creative oasis” and it was a very mysterious place above the garage. I used to love to go up there and watch her work.

Ultimately how she influenced my work was [with] the first print that I ever pulled which was a serigraph. [It] was silkscreen. I did it in my grandmother’s studio and I could only fit 30 prints there to dry. That became my edition size for silkscreens. I’ve done about 45 editions over the years. The way she influenced me was her discipline and dedication to her craft, and that she did art until she died when she was 96 years old.

Martino Hoss working with pastel on copper in his studio


Martino Hoss, Golden Moment, Pastel on Copper, 16×10 in. framed to 24×18 in.

Did growing up in a family with such strong ties to Yosmeite and the Sierra have an influence on your art?

MH: Yes, growing up and coming to Yosemite definitely influenced my artwork. As a young child, we would pretty much come up every year, whether for the Bracebridge Dinner where my father one year was the Visiting Squire, or floating down the Merced, or just hiking around in the valley. Then as I got older, [hiking] up into the high country…just having that deep connection. I draw upon it now when I do work. In doing this show, there are certain memories I have in Tuolumne Meadows or in the Valley as a small child, in all seasons. I remember winters when it snowed and there was 30 feet of snow in the valley and we stayed in Yosemite Lodge… And the fact that I’m a landscape artist and that Yosemite is one of the more beautiful places in the world…it definitely influenced me.

Martino Hoss, Ribbon, Pastel on Copper, 14×18 in. framed to 22×27 in.

What was it like growing up in a family with such a rich history in Yosemite?

MH: I think growing up in a family that had an incredibly rich history with Yosemite was very unique from the fact that my grandparents worked here, my parents worked here, and we did too. My grandparents [grew] up with Virginia and Ansel, and then my father [was] best friends with Mike Adams until my father passed away last year. And also growing up with Mike and Jeannie [Adams]. I’ve known them throughout my life, and Jeannie…gave me a lot of support. I could always go to her with ideas and she was always helpful with inspiration and a lot of things about Yosemite.

You’ve made inroads with several different mediums. How has that evolved and why have you settled on soft pastel and copper at the current time?

MH: I have developed a number of different mediums. I like to work in different media. I work with the printmaking techniques and wood blocks and painting and the pastels and copper. Every time I approach a new medium—like with silkscreens and serigraphs—I try to do something that hasn’t been done before. When I did the serigraphs I was my own master printer. I made my own screens. They were all printed by hand. I did those for about 25 years, and I did about 45 different editions of landscapes, west coast.

And then there was a class at the Art Center College of Design called media experimentation and it taught us how to use incongruous materials. I decided I wanted to do one-of-a-kind pieces and I wanted them to be original—to do something that nobody had done before. So, I had some copper in my studio and some chalk pastels and I started to experiment with the chalk pastel on the copper and also on tin and brass and canvas and different materials. I chose the copper due to its luminosity and it is just a beautiful metal. I thought for this show, pastels on copper would really be able to capture the light and atmosphere of Yosemite.

Plates of pastels and sheets of copper metal in Martino Hoss’ art studio

How does Yosemite translate visually onto copper with pastel?

MH: I think that chalk pastels on copper really work well visually as far as being able to translate Yosemite Valley and the park. The luminosity of the copper reflects an inner light. There’s something about certain times of day…when you look at the granite when the sun is going down on El Cap…it looks like it’s lit from within. Or a waterfall, the light and the mist…there is an inner light. I thought that the pastel and copper medium would be an excellent choice. [When I started] this show, it actually surpassed my expectations of the pieces that I was able to create.

Martino Hoss, The Big Wall, Pastel on Copper, 20×18 in. framed to 29×26 in.

What are the advantages over other mediums?

MH: The advantage of the chalk pastel medium is that [it allows me to] do the pieces with just my hands and my fingers. I don’t use any brushes…there is a real immediacy to them. There’s a freshness, there’s a purity. You can’t overwork them. If you overwork them, the pastels stop sticking and you have to scrape it off and start over again. Going into [a] particular piece, you have to have a clear vision of what you want it to be and then you create it very directly [from that vision].

What’s your favorite aspect of the art making process?

MH: One of my favorite aspects of making art is a sense of discovery. I love the unexpected. I’ll start a piece and I’ll have an idea but at some point in the process, they become what they want to be. They become alive. They, to a certain degree, will show you how they want to be finished. And you need to be open. You need to listen to that. And I love that, and feel very blessed to be able to create.

Martino Hoss, Misty Morning, Pastel on Copper, 28×23 in. framed to 36x31in.

What’s your favorite part about making art in Yosemite?

MH: I think my favorite aspect of making art in Yosemite is the fact that from age 1 until now, emotionally I have so much to draw upon from my impressions as a young child, as a teenager, as a young adult, bringing my children up here, and my wife up here, backpacking with my father. I have so much rich history and memories [here] in Yosemite. I can’t think of another landscape that I have so much to draw upon.

Explore the entire collection of Martino Hoss’ pastels on copper.

Celebrating Gateway Expressions at The Ansel Adams Gallery

Last week, our gallery partnered with Yosemite National Park and the Yosemite Conservancy to host the 9th Annual Gateway Expressions Student Art and Photography Contest! This contest celebrates the artistic creativity of local youth living in Yosemite’s gateway communities.

Yosemite Reunion: Impressions of a Park