My poor daughter. A lover of animals, she would often ask me as a child to make drawings of them for her. "Daddy," she would say, "draw me a cat." So I would grab my pencil and paper, sit down, and go to it. I don't remember her ever complaining, but her disappointment must have been great since everything I draw almost always ends up looking like either a dog or a truck.
I admire people with artistic talent, including my daughter, whose gifts have blossomed over the years. Another artist I admire is Ralph Yardley, a native Stocktonian who gained fame during the early years of the twentieth century as one of America's leading newspaper illustrators.
Back in 1987, Tod Ruhstaller, the chief executive officer of Stockton's Haggin Museum, put together a small, delightful book on Yardley titled Ralph O. Yardley: Stockton's Inkwell Artist Extraordinaire. The book starts with a brief biography of Yardley, who was born in 1878 to Stockton grocer John Yardley and his wife, Caroline. After graduation from local schools, Yardley junior moved to San Francisco, where he studied art at Hopkins Art Institute and Partington Art School.
Yardley started his professional career as an artist for the San Francisco Examiner. After a short stint with the San Francisco Chronicle, he moved to Hawaii and became staff artist for the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. In 1902, he returned to the mainland and for the next half-century worked for a number publications that included the San Francisco Chronicle, Bulletin, and Call; the New York Globe; Harper's Magazine; and Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. In 1922, the Stockton Record hired him as its resident artist. He stayed there for the next thirty years.
Yardley's portfolio included caricatures, special layouts, and editorial cartoons. I first learned about him through a series of cartoons he drew during the 1920s. He collectively titled them "Do You Remember?" Each installment depicted historic structures, sites, or events based on Yardley's memory and old photographs. So popular were the cartoons that they enjoyed a second run in the Stockton Record during the 1960s.
Two friends of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum were so taken with "Do You Remember?" that they faithfully cut out each daily installment, brought the cartoons together as collections, and gave them to the Museum for preservation. A collection of Yardley originals can also be found at the Haggin Museum.
All too often, we tend to exalt men and women who win battles, transform the land, or come up with inventions that help us control nature. Ralph Yardley is different. Yardley is one of many often-unsung heroes from the past who enriched the cultural life of his community through art. Stockton and San Joaquin County were better places thenand are better places nowbecause he lived here.
Visitors to the San Joaquin County Historical Museum can look forward to some of Yardley's art being incorporated into redesigned exhibits currently under development.