Garrison photogs chronicled Rifle history |

Garrison photogs chronicled Rifle history

Alan Lambert | Western Memories
A Rifle cowboy with all his “important stuff.”
Courtesy Rifle Creek Museum |

As the American experience moved west, the early photographers moved west, too. From its very beginnings, the little community of Rifle, Colorado, was fortunate to have its start recorded by two outstanding early photographers who became a husband and wife team.

Fred L. Garrison came to Rifle shortly after it was founded, arriving in December 1897. It was no small feat setting up a photographic studio and darkroom in the dead of winter, especially when the whole thing was housed inside a tent with a wood-burning stove for heat. As the business grew, Fred and his brother, Orson, built a permanent wood framed gallery on the corner of Railroad Avenue and First Street. The Rifle Gallery became Garrison’s base as his photographic wagon and team became a familiar sight on the roads of Colorado’s Western Slope looking for photographic opportunities and business.

Sarah Olena “Ola” Anfenson was a retoucher and colorist for Frank Dean, a Grand Junction photographer, before she opened up her own photographic gallery in De Beque, Colorado, during the oil drilling boom of 1910. As often happens with photographers today, the oil companies often employed Ola’s services to make a photographic record of their drilling operations. With photography considered at the time to be mostly a “man’s” occupation and oil drilling still considered a man’s occupation, it must have been a real site at the time to see Ola setting up her cumbersome camera equipment around the drilling derricks. Ola was a pioneer in many ways and is now recognized as one of Colorado’s foremost photographic artists of the early 20th century.

About 1914, Fred Garrison, on one of his photographic travels, stopped in De Beque and visited Ola’s gallery. Impressed with her work, Fred offered Ola a job running his gallery in Rifle. At first she declined, but with the fortunes of the drilling business going into decline, Ola soon accepted Fred’s offer and moved to Rifle with her mother. About a year later, Fred and Ola were married. On Aug. 31, 1916, a daughter, Grace Curtis, was born to the Garrisons. This joy was short-lived as Grace passed away on May 25, 1917. She would be the Garrisons’ only child and is buried with her parents in Rifle’s Rose Hill Cemetery. This grief may have been conveyed in the many poignant graveside and missing family member photographs the Garrisons took for early Rifle families.

Although both Garrisons were well-respected in their trade, for much of their body of work the photographer is not identified. It is generally accepted that the more creative and emotionally charged photographs were Ola’s. It could be said that this was the result of Ola’s female sensitivities or the fact she already had 20 years of photographic experience by the time she met Fred.

The Garrison studio was a Rifle landmark for a half century. They recorded the growth and progress of Rifle and the surrounding communities, how the machines of the era worked, what crops were harvested and how folks spent their free time. Through their lens we can see that men dressed up in ties and sport jackets and women long dresses to go camping, fishing or hunting in the Flat Tops. They showed us what a living room looked like before there was television and sometimes even electricity. Mostly, there are the faces. The many that were born here, raised a family here, moved here and died here. Some made names for themselves as movers and shakers and community leaders. Some left only their image. But because of the Garrisons, we see our past and know what shaped the community in which we live.

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