University of Oregon

Historic Photograph Collections

Signature of Gertrude Bass Warner

About Warner Finding Aid Images Online

Gertrude Bass Warner lantern slides, 1903-1929.

Collection number: PH014

Extent: 42 linear feet (97 containers)

Access restrictions: None.

Left: "Osaka, Sumiyoshi-jinja: Rice transplanting festival." The Mita-uye-sai festival at the Sumiyoshi shrine includes geishas from the nearby town, instead of the daughters of leading families more commonly featured in Shinto ceremonies, in commemoration of a geisha who cared for an ancient empress struck by smallpox. Photo by Gertrude Bass Warner, June 14, 1905? PH014-04-34.

Provenance: Gift of Gertrude Bass Warner, 1922

Preferred citation: [Identification of item], Gertrude Bass Warner lantern slides, PH014-[item number], Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403-1299.

On-line access: Additional Warner images are available in our Digital Collections.

Processed by: Normandy Helmer, Access & Preservation Officer

Date Completed: September 2004


Gertrude Bass Warner (1863–1951) was an art enthusiast, internationalist, and traveler. On her first trip to Asia in 1904, she became fascinated with the region and began, with her husband Murray Warner, to collect art and documentation of art and culture in Asia. In 1922 she gave the first gift from the Murray Warner art collection to the University of Oregon, which became the core of the art museum she was to direct and protect for thirty years. In addition to collecting art, Mrs. Warner was outspoken in her appreciation for Asia and the benefits of multiculturalism. The collection documents Asian art, culture, and architecture before World War II, in China, Japan, Korea and Cambodia. Images of the Warner art objects are also included.

Biographical Sketch

Gertrude Bass Warner was born May 14, 1863 in Chicago, to Clara Foster and Perkins Bass. The Foster family prospered from early investment in Chicago real estate and also maintained an estate in Peterborough, NH. Clara's mother, Nancy Smith Foster, supported the higher education of women and used her substantial wealth to build a women's dormitory at the fledgling University of Chicago. Clara served on the board of the Art Institute of Chicago, helped establish the historical society in Peterborough, and commissioned its building to house Colonial art and a library. One of Gertrude's brothers, Robert Perkins Bass, served as governor of New Hampshire in 1911-13. Another, John Foster Bass, was a noted journalist and war correspondent.

Warner was educated at fashionable schools in Philadelphia and in Paris, where the family maintained an apartment. During Gertrude's teenage years, the house in Peterborough was equipped with a darkroom to support her interest in photography. She attended Vassar, and studied art in Europe. In 1888 she married Dr. George F. Fiske of Chicago and bore three children: Samuel Bass Fiske, George Foster Fiske, and Clara, who died as an infant in 1893. The couple divorced, George staying with his father while Gertrude raised Sam.

Gertrude and Murray Warner boating in AsiaAt the turn of the century, Asia experienced much political and military turmoil, and was forcibly influenced by European cultures. In 1904 Gertrude accompanied her journalist brother, John, to Japan during the Russo-Japanese war. The following year John sent her for safety to Shanghai, recommending an acquaintance with his friend Maj. Murray Warner (1869-1920). Murray Warner, a graduate of Exeter Academy, held a degree from MIT and went to China to establish the engineering department of the American Trading Company. Warner was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Shanghai Volunteers, protecting American citizens during the Boxer Rebellion, a Chinese upraising against foreign imperialism in 1899-1900. Gertrude and Murray were married on Oct. 1, 1905 and took up residence in Shanghai.

Gertrude Bass Warner continued her travels, exploring China, Japan, Korea, and Cambodia from Shanghai. She was an appreciative witness to many religious and cultural traditions that were destroyed in later wars. She experienced political unrest and military conflicts that complicated her travels: in 1924 she was besieged in Beijing and was evacuated on an International Train that came under repeated fire on its journey. [See "Our escape from Peking".] She photographed as she traveled, and also purchased images. Her interest in art expanded to Asia and to Russian icons, and she acquired a reference library to expand her knowledge.

Right: Gertrude and Murray Warner cruising a river in China, 1904-1909. PH014-54-13

The Warners returned to the United States in December 1909, residing in San Francisco. Murray Warner served as consulting engineer and quartermaster at Camp Dix during World War I. In 1920, he suffered a fatal stroke. Gertrude moved to Eugene to live near her son, a professor of law at the University of Oregon. For the next thirty-one years, Gertrude Bass Warner worked to build and manage a museum to house the collections, and to establish one of the first Asian studies departments, at the University of Oregon. Assisted by Maude Kerns and Mabel Klockars Garner, Warner continued her collecting trips and kept the museum going through the Depression and through political battles on campus.

Sam Bass Warner left the University of Oregon for a term at Syracuse, and then joined the law faculty at Harvard. His brother, George Fiske Jr., became a doctor in Southern California. Gertrude bought property next to Sam's in Belmont, Massachusetts, but continued to travel to visit with family and to work on the museum. Much of her correspondence is on letterhead from hotels and steamships.

Gertrude Bass Warner was an active supporter of the United Nations, a member of the Institute of Pacific Relations, the Meiji Japan Society, the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association of Museums, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Federation of Arts. In addition to her work at the University of Oregon, she established museums at St. Mary's Hall and at the International Institute, both in Shanghai. She provided scholarship assistance, funding the first Japanese full-time woman student at the university in 1935-37; established a statewide essay contest on Asian culture; encouraged fraternities to include foreign students; funded an International Club and residence; and supported the creation of multicultural campus organizations. In 1929 the University of Oregon conferred an honorary degree of master of arts in public service, "in recognition of her scholarly contribution to a better understanding of the art and civilization of Oriental peoples through her discriminating selection and organization of material contained in the Murray Warner Collection, and her tireless efforts in the promotion of international goodwill." Gertrude Bass Warner died in 1951 at the family home in Peterborough, NH.

Scope and Content Note

An Ainu family of Japan, c. 1903. From the Frederick Starr collection.Left: "A splendid type of Ainu aborigine, and his family, Island of Yezo, Japan". From the Frederick Starr collection, by H.C. White Co. of Vermont, 1906. PH014-40-03.

The collection consists of approximately 5,500 lantern slides, many hand-tinted. Most of the images are presumed to have been taken by Mrs. Warner, or her husband and son, on their travels; some were purchased from commercial sources. Many of the images feature Shinto ceremonies, the subject of an unpublished manuscript. An important series are the 38 Ainu slides of University of Chicago anthropologist Frederick Starr (1858-1933), acquired in 1937. There is also a collection of 34 World War I recruiting posters from Britain and Canada.

Additional Gertrude Bass Warner materials in Special Collections include correspondence, both personal and related to the museum; travel diaries and social calendars; financial documents related to the museum and to the Bass family trust; lecture notes and an unpublished manuscript, When East Meets West; personal effects of Murray Warner; and the Warner Library. Materials are currently located in multiple collections in the Manuscripts and University Archives collections, particularly the archives of the Museum of Art. The Murray Warner Art collection is housed in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon. Other art objects collected by the Warners were donated to the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian, and to two small museums in Shanghai.

page from Gertrude's journalRight: A page from an undated journal, listing shots taken on her camera and on her son Sam's. The next page includes pictures on Murray's camera. AX 701, box 1.

Documentation of the lantern slides is very limited. There is no original inventory. The slides are mentioned occasionally in letters and notebooks, and included in list of shipped materials. The photography is primarily attributed to Gertrude Warner because her letters frequently mention taking pictures as part of her expeditions. Gertrude's original gift of collections to the University of Oregon occurred in 1922, but she made additional gifts throughout her life. Transfer of Warner materials from the museum to the library occurred twice: The Warner Library in 1968, and a steamer trunk containing travel diaries and Shinto research materials in 1971. The slides may have come to the library from the museum, or from the Art Department where Maude Kerns taught.

Many of the slides are identified on handwritten labels, presumably by Mrs. Warner. Most can be dated onl from context and comparison with her letters and travel diaries. Multiple arrangement systems have been used over the years, in conjunction with Warner's lectures. The images are currently numbered sequentially by box. A database inventory that includes references to other numbering sequences is available.

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