My father, Hubert A. Lowman, started taking pictures of the California Missions in 1946. He was a professional, scenic photographer, so he took pictures all over California and the west, but he had a special love of the California Missions.
His studio and darkroom were in our home in Southern California, and as far back as I can remember, he had pictures of the California Missions hanging on the wall of his studio. Today, my wife and I have some of his mission photographs hanging on the walls of our home.
Sometimes I visited the missions with my father. He published postcards of the missions in the early 1950’s, which he sold to the mission gift shops. Later, he added books and posters about the missions to his product line. It always seemed a little strange to me to see my father’s photographs and books on the shelves of the gift shops. At the same time, I was proud of him. I mean, that was my DAD who took those pictures!
Then, 15 years ago, I started taking pictures of the California Missions for postcards, books, jigsaw puzzles, posters, and photo print sets. It seemed so natural. I had watched my father do the same thing for many years, and I just did what he used to do.
Yes, it seems a little strange to see my own photographs and books on sale at the mission gift shops and here on this website. I am proud of what I’m doing, but I mean, that was ME who took those pictures!
And guess what? I’ve developed a special love of the California Missions myself. Yes, their history is controversial, because they represent colonialism and all that implies. Yes, they represent the Roman Catholic Church in a country of growing religious diversity. At the same time, they are beautiful, they are timeless, and they link us to the past in California. They are worth preserving, and they are worth visiting.
Sometimes when I am taking photographs at one of the California Missions, other visitors will assume that I work at the mission. It usually begins with the visitor walking up to me and saying something like, “Excuse me, could I ask you a question?” I’ll say, “Sure, but I don’t work here.” They almost always ask me anyway. Often the question is one I can answer, and I’m happy to share what I know. Recently at one mission, that led to me offering an impromptu tour for a group of about six visitors.
I’ve written four books about the missions. For each of those books, I did quite a lot of research, so I probably do know more about the missions than most visitors. Still, I continue to learn new things all the time, and it is amazing how much I don’t know about the missions!
How much do you know about the California Missions? Could you answer five simple questions about them? I invite you to test yourself.
When was the first California Mission founded in San Diego?
What Roman Catholic order founded the missions?
Which mission church today is the chapel at a Roman Catholic University?
- Santa Barbara
- San Luis Rey
- San Jose
- Santa Clara
Which mission was the last to be restored, in 1955?
- San Antonio
- San Luis Rey
- San Miguel
Three missions today have some or all their buildings protected in California State Parks. Which mission is not associated with a State Park?
- San Buenaventura
- La Purisima
- Santa Cruz
Here are the answers:
The first California Mission was founded in 1769 at San Diego. Members of the Franciscan Order founded all 21 missions. The mission Church at Santa Clara is the chapel at Santa Clara University. In 1955, Soledad Mission was the last to be restored. San Buenaventura is the only one of these four missions not associated with a California State Park.
Welcome to the California Mission Blog. The Lowman Family has been publishing books, postcards, posters, jigsaw puzzles, photographic prints, 4th Grade fact sheets and other products about the California Missions since 1946.
Over the years, we have come to love the missions for their beauty and history. We hope to share some of that love with our readers and provide some interesting and fun facts and stories about the missions along the way.
In 1946, when my father took his first photographs of the missions, things were quite different than they are today. Missions San Antonio and Soledad had not yet been restored. There was no mission church at Mission San Jose. Some of the missions that are surrounded by cities today sat almost alone in the countryside. Few people visited the missions compared to what we see today.
If you have never visited one of the missions, we encourage you to do so. I’ve been to every one of the 21 California Missions many times–most of them 50 times or more. People often ask me if I have a favorite mission, and my answer is “no.” Each one is different. Each one has its own beauty and charm. Each one has something that makes it special.
I’ll try to add to this blog every week or so. Please come back and visit us often. We have lots of stories to tell, and we love to tell them!