A Chronology of Tilden Daken’s Life
From Illinois to the Gold Country (1876—1902). Samuel Tilden Daken was born in Illinois on June 14, 1876. His family moved to Sacramento when he was three. In his youth, he mined for gold in the Sierra foothills. Instead of going to school, he developed an interest in interior design and a talent for fresco work. By his teens he was painting wall murals on limestone in the homes of San Francisco’s high society (most were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire). In 1901, Daken met a young writer named Jack London atop a haystack in the Reno rail yard. Together they clung to the brake beam of a freight car over Donner Pass and into the Oakland Station.
Early San Francisco years (1903—1906). Daken married dressmaker Mary Elizabeth Duplissea in San Francisco in 1903. In 1906, the couple’s Mission Street home, and the artist’s Van Ness Avenue studio and art, was destroyed in the catastrophic earthquake and fire. In the aftermath, the Dakens lived as refugees in “Tent City” in Golden Gate Park.
Sonoma County years (1906—1911). Following the earthquake, the Dakens moved 50 miles north to the town of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County, where their daughters, Edith and Sydney, were born in 1907 and 1908. During this formative time in the artist’s young career, he gained recognition as the “Painter of the Valley of the Moon,” developed a passion for painting in the California redwoods, and resumed his friendship with Jack London. In early 1909, the family moved to Santa Rosa, a nearby town which thrived following post-earthquake reconstruction. There Daken opened a studio and taught art classes at the prestigious Ursuline College.
Return to San Francisco (1911–1913). After five years in Sonoma County, the Daken family returned to San Francisco in 1911. The artist opened a studio on Gough Street, pursued remote wilderness expeditions, and held regular exhibitions.
Mexican Revolution (1913—1914). In 1913, Daken left his family and joined sympathetic Americans—bohemians, writers and artists—who flocked to Mexico during the revolution. While living in Mazatlan, he was caught in the crossfire, wounded, and became a prisoner of war under Carranza’s rule.
Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915). In 1915, Daken joined with hundreds of other artists at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition, honoring the opening of the Panama Canal and the rebirth of San Francisco. He gained international recognition with his “South of the Border” exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts.
The Submarine Studio and beyond (1915—1921). In late 1915, Daken traveled to the Hawaiian Islands where he experimented with painting underwater ocean scenes. After near-death experiences swimming with sharks, he built a custom-designed diving bell he called the Submarine Studio. In 1918, the Dakens divorced amid highly publicized proceedings. The artist later published an autobiographical short story, “In the Grip of an Octopus,” describing his experiences with sharks and a giant octopus. His Short Stories
Northern California Alps and the winter of 1922. During that winter, Daken battled deep snow and frigid temperatures while painting for months in the Sierra Nevada. He exhibited a series of 100 works from that expedition, a collection known as the “Northern California Alps”—arguably the artist’s greatest legacy. He later published an autobiographical short story, “Experiences in the Rugged West,” chronicling an eight-week journey into the high country one winter. His Short Stories
Hollywood years (1923—1925). In early 1923, Daken moved to Hollywood where he hobnobbed with celebrities and painted portraits of silent film stars. In 1923, he set sail for New Guinea from Los Angeles to paint the headhunters. A classical music aficionado, Daken developed a method of painting in red tones in rhythm to the accompaniment of noted musicians. It became known as his “key of red” period.
Marin County years (1925—1931). Daken returned to Northern California and settled in Mill Valley, Marin County, and built a home in Cascade Canyon. Around 1926, he remarried and resumed teaching art classes. He painted dozens of landscapes in Marin County, including scenes of Mount Tamalpais, Muir Woods, and Point Reyes.
The Depression and return to the Gold Country (1931—1935). In late 1931, falling on hard times, the Daken and his second wife left Mill Valley. After moving several times, they landed in the historic mining hub of Georgetown in El Dorado County—a return to the artist’s gold mining roots. In early 1935, Daken was diagnosed with cancer and died three months later, on April 24, 1935. He is buried in Georgetown’s historic Pioneer Cemetery. His works have been exhibited often since his death. Exhibitions