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South Side of Inscription Rock, N. M.

This monumental block of sandstone in the New Mexico desert has been an oasis for travelers since ancient times. It marked the spot where the Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate thought he had discovered a passage to the Gulf of California in 1605. He recorded this event in an inscription on the rock face (also recorded by O’Sullivan as a detail). The alignment of this bit of Spanish “graffiti” with earlier petroglyphs left by ancestral Native Americans reflects a history of the region’s power shifts. O’Sullivan’s own errant scrawls on the photograph’s glass plate negative coincidentally suggest the English language tags left by U. S. military personnel who controlled the territory after the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection also includes O’Sullivan’s Cañon de Chelle (Eskenazi Museum of Art 2009.51).

Timothy H. O’Sullivan
American, ca. 1840–1882
South Side of Inscription Rock, N. M., Plate 14 from Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
1873 Albumen print
Image/sheet: 8 x 10 7/8 in. (20.3 x 27.6 cm); mount: 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 82.40.1