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Territorial Governor Portraits by William Besser
The portraits in this collection were completed in 1913 by painter William Besser. They represent the 16 territorial governors of Arizona who were appointed from 1863 until 1912 when Arizona became a state. Territorial governors were appointed by the president because people who lived in the Arizona Territory were unable to vote. Besser approached most of his portraits using photographs as a point of reference. In addition to his painting, the exhibition includes a collage of the photographs he used and primary source letters and materials from the governors.
Besser was born in Poland in September 1873 and immigrated to the United States as a child in 1891. His first working location as a painter was in Washington D.C. He then moved to Texas and Kentucky, before finally relocating to Arizona for health reasons.
In Arizona, Besser became good friends with Governor George W. P. Hunt who commissioned him to paint the portraits. He also painted the first two Speakers of the Arizona House of Representatives and the first President of the Arizona Senate, receiving $100 for each portrait. In Phoenix, Besser painted the portraits of McCormick, Goodwin, Tritle, McCord, and Brodie from photographs; all but Brodie being deceased. Besser moved to Prescott and painted portraits of Safford, Hoyt, Zulizk, Fremont, Murphy, and Franklin from photographs. He also painted Sloan and Kibbey during in-person sittings. He even visited Hughes' home for in-person sittings in Tucson.
Besser was known to travel and, after completing the portraits, he went to South Africa. He also tried to travel back home to Poland but was unable to move past German control during World War I. He asked Governor Hunt for assistance to return to Arizona, due to his struggle with Tuberculosis. He died at the hospital in Florence, Arizona on April 15, 1915. He was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Phoenix on November 5, 1931.
The Arizona Territorial Governors portraits consist of 16 people who served 17 terms as Territorial Governor. Territorial governors were appointed by the president because people who lived in the Arizona Territory were unable to vote. Besser approaches most of his portraits using photographs as a point of reference.
Arizona Territorial Governors and their terms:
- John Noble Goodwin, 1863-1866
- Richard Cunningham McCormick, 1866-1869
- Anson Peacely-Killen Safford, 1869-1877
- John Philo Hoyt, 1877-1878
- John Charles Fremont, 1878-1882
- Frederick Augustus Tritle, 1882-1885
- Conrad Meyer Zulick, 1885-1889
- Lewis Wolfley, 1889-1891
- John Nichol Irwin, 1891-1892
- Nathan Oakes Murphy, 1892-1893
- Louis Cameron Hughes, 1893-1896
- Benjamin Joseph Franklin, 1896-1897
- Myron Hawley McCord, 1897-1898
- Nathan Oakes Murphy, 1898-1902
- Alexander Oswald Brodie, 1902-1905
- Joseph Henry Kibbey, 1905-1909
- Richard Elihu Sloan, 1909-1912