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Calendar series by Colorado men features historic Four Corners photographs


Collection consists of 300 images by unknown photographer

Mike Easterling   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Vern Ince's roots in the Four Corners area run deep, as he says his ancestors were among the first white settlers to arrive in the Montezuma Valley in southwest Colorado in the 1800s.

So when a friend of his told him he had a box of historical glass-plate negatives that were shot around the region by an unknown photographer more than 100 years ago, Ince knew he wanted them. The friend was understandably reluctant to part with the photos, but when he got in a cash-flow bind last year and Ince anted up $300, the collection changed hands.

"I saw so much old history in there, and I love antiques, anyway," Ince said. "My wife and I went over them back and forth, and we agreed I needed to have a partner."

More: Is it the last stand for the trading post?

Ince called his old friend Dave Reineke, a photography buff, and the two quickly settled on a plan to monetize the collection.

Late last year, they began selling their "Hogback in Time" calendars, eventually selling all but a few dozen of the 1,300 calendars they had printed. That endeavor was so successful, they have decided to follow up with a 2021 calendar that could go on sale as soon as late this week at locations throughout the Four Corners and by email order.

"The photographs were taken right there in the San Juan Basin and all the way to Gallup," Reineke said, adding that they include historic images of Navajo, Zuni and Hopi people.

Both men live outside Dolores, Colorado, and neither has any idea who the photographer who captured the images was. But both men rave about the quality and variety of the collection and believe the calendars they are producing will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the Four Corners.

"They're going to blow some people away, I think," Reineke said.

A different image is featured each month, and the calendar concludes with a page of text authored by Ince, who generated the market for the 2020 calendar by visiting local trading posts and asking them to add it to their inventory.

Others are reading: Past and present still meet at a handful of Four Corners trading posts

Reineke said the collection consists of approximately 300 images, which date to 1920 and earlier. This year's calendar will feature images from a second, smaller collection also obtained by Ince that stretches into the 1930s.

Ince said he and Reineke are starting by printing 1,000 copies of the 2021 calendar, "but I've got a feeling we're going to be adding more."

That is no idle boast. Once word got out about the 2020 calendar, the two men started receiving email orders for it not just from around the region, but from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

Reineke said some of the negatives were badly scratched, but as an experienced Adobe Photoshop user, he was able to repair the images for the calendar.

"On one particular photograph, I spent six hours cleaning it up," he said.

Ince said the collection has drawn the interest of the San Juan County Historical Society, and although he and Reineke can't say for sure, they believe one of the vintage images features the same drilling rig that has been displayed for many years on the grounds of the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

"We are opening a lot of eyes," Reineke said.

Ince said his favorite photograph in the collection was taken outside the Bisti Trading Post and features a white trader posing with a burro laden with sheep hides. Reineke favors an image of a Navajo man riding a bucking bull, as he appreciates the skill that went into capturing the image.

"Those glass-plate box cameras probably weighed 50 pounds," he said, describing how difficult the equipment was to maneuver. "But he's got the bull and the rider, and the resolution is perfect, and the background is blurred. … That might be my favorite photograph because of the artistry in it. And the composition is good, too."

The new calendars will be available soon at the Arts and Crafts Fair at the Animas Valley Mall in Farmington and at trading posts throughout the San Juan Basin. They also can be ordered by emailing hogbackintime@gmail.com.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.