Adelaide Hanscom Leeson was a gifted artist and photographer. She is widely known for her photographic illustrations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Hanscom (November 25, 1875 – November 19, 1931) started picking up the basic skills of painting since her early childhood. After her family’s relocation to Berkeley, California she enrolled herself at the University of California and then at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. It is during this time that she started exploring other avenues and became interested in photography.
In 1902, Hanscom established her studio in San Francisco. Soon her vividly expressive pictorial photographs captured the imagination of many. She came to be known as one of the finest pictorialists of the Pacific Coast. She commenced her pioneering project, i.e. creating the photogravure for The Rubaiyat, in 1903. The news of such a project naturally created sensation across North America which was not exposed to such artistry at that point of time. Hanscom herself was deeply influenced by the verses of The Rubaiyat.
As if to stir the drama of her own life fortune intervened with her poor tricks in an effort to spoil Adelaide Hanscom Leeson’s parade of success. A devastating earthquake in San Francisco (1906) completely destroyed her studio and with that the prints of her work for The Rubaiyat. Bemused Hanscom left the city to settle in Seattle with a handful of prints that survived the fated day. She started working with even greater ferocity and produced quite a few portraits of the society ladies and gentlemen in her characteristic style. More importantly, she started creating photo illustrations of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese which took many years to complete.
Hanscom’s career in art was briefly interrupted after her marriage in 1908. She could begin her work once again some three years later. The ensuing productive period was intense but brief. The loss of her husband and father in quick succession caused her to plunge into a depressive state. Never did she recover from it and was forced to intermittently spend time in several mental institutions before being killed in a road accident. Aptly did say Khayyam,
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
But helpless pieces in the game He plays,
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days,
He hither and thither moves, and checks… and slays,
Then one by one, back in the closet lays.