I am often amazed at the number of excellent performers, writers, statesmen, etc. who come from small towns that are sometimes far away.
Karl (later Carl) Moon is one such person who came from Wilmington, Ohio. He was a photographer, painter, collector of artifacts and, with his wife, a writer of primarily children’s books.
He focused on the natives of the southwestern United States. He meticulously recorded their lives for posterity.
Although I knew him a few years ago, more recently he caught my attention in two ways.
First, an Indian artist and high school classmate who lives and has his studio in Nashville, Ind. told me there were pictures of Moon at the local Clinton County History Center and he asked if he could come see them, which he did. This was my first encounter with Moon’s photos.
The second recent encounter was at the Red Rocks Indian Museum, near the Colorado-Arizona border, where I received the brochure entitled “Discover Navajo” which aims to introduce visitors to the Navajo nation, the largest North American tribe. When you open the two-fold brochure, Moon’s famous “Navajo Boy” photo from 1907 is in the foreground.
This is clearly Moon’s most famous photo and is used in many ways and in many places to portray native people in general, and the Navajo in particular. The caption under this full page photo in this oversized 400+ page book titled “In Search of the Wild Indian: Photographs and Life Works of Carl and Grace Moon” reads: “A Navajo Boy – This is the most known from all Moon pictures.His handsome, intelligent face looks directly at the camera and bears a striking resemblance to a Greek god.From Moon’s original glass negative.
During Moon’s lifetime, he rose to fame, and due to his success as an entertainer, he was in high demand in various venues. Early in his career, he was invited to show his photos at the Museum of Natural History in New York and the exclusive Cosmo Club in DC.
It was during his stay in the capital that President Theodore Roosevelt invited him to exhibit his photographs at the White House.
(Moon had many famous friends with whom he shared various interests, including Walt Disney, Zane Gray, and artist and sculptor Frederick Remington.)
A similar event early in his career gave him clear visibility as a budding artist to watch – it was the acceptance of an article and photos in the 1906 issue of the “Burr McIntosh Monthly”, a leading art publication of the time. Not only did his article and photos appear, but there were additional photographs and stories about John Burroughs, Winston Churchill, William Taft and King Edward VII.
“They not only accepted his story in print with 16 photographs, but they honored Moon by using one of his photographs (Juanita), in color, for the cover of the issue. This honor was rare for a young man who did not had only been in the Southwest for about two years.
Her relationship with President Roosevelt continued, and since they seemed to have so much in common, she was asked to accompany Roosevelt on a hunting trip to Africa after leaving office. Moon was unable to attend the first part of the trip, but made up for it later.
Roosevelt was sent on a trip by the Smithsonian Institution to collect specimens for their new museum. “Moon, like Roosevelt, was an accomplished hunter and outdoor enthusiast. He enjoyed the trip by taking his camera and taking hundreds of photos of the hunt, in which 296 big game animals were killed, including 9 lions.
This relationship with the Smithsonian continued well into Moon’s career and, after several attempts, a donor was found and 26 Moon paintings were delivered to the Smithsonian Museum in September 1943. Just three years later he died – a year later than his wife, with whom he created a series of children’s books and much more.
It seems like Carl Moon never stopped; he went from project to project, he was a bit of a Renaissance man. A simple article like this cannot begin to do justice to his energy and skill.
On the back of the book I mentioned earlier and under Acknowledgements, I found the following references: first, to “The Clinton County Historical Society” and second to the “Wilmington Public Library of Clinton County Ohio”.
These two references appear here because Carl Moon never forgot his hometown!
In our history society, I was shown nine paintings of Moon in the council room, and in the history center there are four photographs of Moon.
In a recent article, I asked if a reader of my article would be willing to fill in the facts about a death that altered the use of a rural private park. A 93-year-old woman responded and was able to authentically provide the missing information.
In reference to Carl Moon — who did not forget his birthplace, but ensured that his work of art found a home in his hometown — I wonder if it would be possible for these two important institutions to a special effort to provide an opportunity for the citizens of Wilmington and Clinton County to view the work of this special son.
Carl Moon deserves it, as do our local citizens.
Neil Snarr is professor emeritus at Wilmington College.