On the morning of the day he died, Toedtemeier got a call from MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Robert Adams, Oregon’s most famous photographer. Adams congratulated Toedtemeier on Wild Beauty and urged him to do a book of his own photos right away. Toedtemeier had, in fact, begun working on a volume of coastal photos when he died. Sandra S. Philips, the renowned senior curator of photography at the San Francisco MOMA, has offered to help Toedtemeier’s wife, Prudence Roberts, along with Laursen, expand the project into a book tentatively titled Transcending Time. Roberts, PAM’s former curator of American art and a Portland Community College art history professor, has begun the considerable task of cataloging her late husband’s prints.
PROOF THAT PASSION AND WIT CAN TRANSCEND TRAINING AND MONEY Toedtemeier had no formal art training and practically no budget when he began building PAM’s photography collection. As a curator, he relied on the whirlwind force of his persuasiveness. Collectors donated their masterpieces because Toedtemeier had a way of explaining why they were important and how they fit into history, and of spreading enthusiasm for bringing them out of obscurity. “Terry was one of the last of a particular twentieth-century breed of photographer, curator, collector, and impresario,” says John S. Weber, PAM’s former curator of contemporary art and now Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York. “[These were] people who invented themselves with little or no formal training of the sort we see today. I’m talking about people like Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz.”
PERSPECTIVE Toedtemeier’s work can teach us how to see more deeply. As a curator, Toedtemeier focused on the entire context of a photo, including the artist’s point of view and the history of the subject. A few weeks before he died, he promised to show Naef, the retired Getty curator, his latest discovery: Carleton Watkins’s vantage points for classic 1867 shots near what is now Bonneville Dam. (The US Postal Service selected one of these shots for its 2002 Masters of American Photography stamp series.) “Terry had sleuthed the now-submerged places where Watkins had positioned his camera,” Naef says.
Alas, the meeting with Toedtemeier never took place. On the night of December 10, Laursen and Toedtemeier drove out to Hood River together for their lecture. Laursen remembers his friend pointing out the moon—“this ghostly shape behind the clouds”—and saying, “I’ve never seen it exactly that way before.”
Much later that night, someone drove Laursen home. The moon was still up, but Terry was gone.