“Jessamine was sort of a Renaissance woman on the range,” Tempe Javitz says of her late grandmother. “Nowadays many are run totally by women or women in partnership with their husbands, but it was not so common in my childhood, and I think rare in my grandmother’s day.”
But not only did Jessamine help run her husband’s and hers ranch—she also raised seven children, served on the School Board, helped run her father’s ranch, passionately gardened, and was an active photographer. Inspired by her grandmother’s perseverance and passion, Javitz has taken to writing a book on her grandmother’s life, filled with Jessamine’s photographs and events from her diaries.
“My parents received her photo archive at her death and it was sitting in their basement all those years. Dad’s oldest sister had given me what remained of grandmother’s diaries, so I scan[ned] those negatives…It took from August of 2007 until January of 2014 to scan all the photos—there are thousands.” And if that doesn’t seem like enough, Javitz has had to take a photo shop class to learn how to properly clean up her grandmother’s photos. But Javitz’s love of photography extends beyond those of Jessamine’s own— she herself was given a camera by her beloved grandmother at just nine years old. “Any excuse and I’ve got my camera out. The sun is setting, the rain is slanting beautifully against the window. It’s a great distraction and sometimes I drive my friends and husband crazy with my passion.”
And just like Jessamine, Javitz’s life also extends beyond the camera. She worked as an insurance agent for almost 34 years, retiring in order to fulfill her dream of capturing her grandmother’s incredible journey. She too is a mother of two boys, and her grandmother’s diaries have really changed her perception of motherhood. “How she managed to do all of this and become a great photographer is a bit mind numbing. And here we ladies of the 1970’s and 80’s thought we had invented the working mom!…[But it’s] no wonder where my work ethic came from, directly down from her to my father to me.”
Tradition seems to be a theme in Javitz’s family—just as Jessamine bestowed Javitz with her first camera, Jessamine’s own mother was the one who first placed a camera in her own hands in the late 1890s. “Jessamine took that camera everywhere with her and recorded the mundane to the exciting in her life, much of it now quite historical.” Married to a man 18 years her senior, Jessamine documented their life of ranching. Whether it was the depression in the 1930s in which they lost their large ranch (but went on to manage a small one), or her love of plant life, she kept track of it all. “What she really wanted to do [was] be a landscape gardener. I think that love came out of her landscape photos and was another artistic outlet for her. She was known for stopping her horse way up in the mountains and digging up plants and bringing them home.”
Javitz, working hard on her grandmother’s book, is “on the way to knitting together the themes of Jessamine’s life and her challenges and triumphs.” While she loved the research and scanning, her greatest challenge is “getting motivated to keep writing and reviewing.” We here at Mommikin can only imagine how hard it would be to tear our eyes away from the wonderful photos and priceless journal entries, applauding Javitz for her hard work and dedication. From our creative family to hers, we know she will succeed in her project and can’t wait to see the end product!
Written by Jennifer Berry originally for HowlRound.
Olivia Butze is our first official Mommikin intern. Hailing from Mill Valley and currently attending Scripps College, she has a passion for publishing, editing, and teaching.