Two years since their arrival in Santa Rosa, it was clear the Comstocks had settled in to stay. Well, most of them, anyway.
Starting in 1910, members of the family adopted the custom of alerting the local papers when they were away from town. Someone made a day trip to San Francisco; was visiting in Oakland; enjoying a vacation at Lake Tahoe – all mundane bits of news, but nonetheless events their friends and business associates might find good to know (the operative part of that sentence being that they had local friends and business associates). Hilliard was 19 years old and studying law with James Wyatt Oates, but he was best known around town for being a top-notch tennis player whose matches were covered on the sports page. At a social club, eldest brother John gave a lecture on bees and a song written by his wife was performed. Despite all odds that the aristocratic, highly educated Comstocks wouldn’t fit in with provincial Santa Rosa, they were fitting in just swell.
Around the end of the year John moved to southern California to study medicine. It was primarily John who brought the family here in 1908; he and sisters Catherine and Cornelia were award-winning leather workers who had been part of Elbert Hubbard’s legendary Roycroft Colony, which was the foundation for the Arts & Crafts movement in America. Calling themselves The Companeros, the Comstocks opened “The Gift Shop” in downtown Santa Rosa, where they sold their own work as well as artwork from many pioneers of the emerging Arts & Crafts style. As John was the shop’s manager and as probably little of their artisan work was sold locally, it would be natural to expect the storefront to close once he stepped aside. Except the opposite happened.
In May, the Press Democrat announced The Gift Shop would move to a larger and more prominent location at 626 Fourth street (which is still currently a gift shop, appropriately enough) where it would be run by Catherine Comstock and Bess Woodward. At the same time, the PD continued, they were forming an “Arts and Crafts Guild” in Santa Rosa to teach apprentices to make works of art that would be sold through the store. All members of the Guild were women.
All of this was a bit radical for 1910 Santa Rosa. Women usually didn’t own businesses, unless they sold ladies’ goods or services – hats or hairstyling, for ex. Outside of training for a profession such as teacher, nurse, or librarian, job opportunities for women were limited to unskilled labor, such as working at a laundry or operating a cash register (we know this because of 1911 complaints over new laws regarding female employees). Nor was downtown particularly friendly to women workers; as they could be arrested if they entered a bar or cigar shop, there were 30+ places off-limits to Guild members. (Matters had actually improved by then, however – for more than a year after the Great Earthquake, there were few, if any, public restrooms available for women.)
The Press Democrat noted John Comstock “still retains control of the wholesale end” which assured readers the business remained properly on a paternalistic even keel, and the Guild was “composed of a number of popular girls of the younger set… who are all personal friends and interested in each other’s welfare…” Although the PD’s condescending article makes them sound like ingenues (if not small children), they were in their twenties and the best and brightest of their generation. A couple of them we have already met: Pauline Olson, who ran Luther Burbank’s “Bureau of Information” and hosted a 1905 Goth-like “Ghost Party” that had people buzzing about it for months, and Hazel Farmer, who along with her mother Dorothy (of Farmer’s Lane fame) went to Los Angeles in 1908 to purchase a car which they drove all the way back to Santa Rosa on horse-worn wagon trails.
The Gift Shop was around at least through 1912, presumably still selling works created by the Arts and Crafts Guild of Santa Rosa. Over the next several years other Comstocks would begin drifting away from Santa Rosa, leaving mother Nellie and brothers George (“Frank”) and Hilliard. Later in the 1910s Hilliard would begin making a name for himself, and it took as long as that for the newspapers to learn how to spell it correctly.
LECTURE ON “BEES” BY JOHN COMSTOCK
The lecture on “Bees” by John Comstock at a meeting of the Starr King Club Thursday evening was one of the most instructive and interesting that has been given before the Club for some time, owing to its practical side. The speaker showed a familiarity with his subject which made it easy for him to handle it.
The meeting was conducted by Geo. F. King, the president, and there was an instrumental solo by Mrs. John Comstock, vocal solo by Miss Alice Bambaugh, the music of which was written by Mrs. Comstock. The evening proved a very pleasant one, and a large audience was present.– Press Democrat, May 13, 1910
POPULAR GIRLS FORM A BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP
A very interesting announcement is that which tells of the forming of a partnership by two of Santa Rosa’s popular and very talented girls, whereby they take over the business of “The Companeros,[“] or the “Gift Shop”, which has been so successfully conducted by John Comstock. They are Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Bess Woodward.
Miss Comstock’s art work is considered among the finest in the country and both she and her brother are members of art associations in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities, in which membership is only gained by proficiency. Miss Woodward has been studying, carefully and untiringly with Mr. Comstock as a teacher for a long time and her work has earned compliments that have come from sources that make them very valuable. She is considered highly proficient.
It is the purpose of the new firm of Comstock & Woodward to move early next month from the Masonic building into a vacant store in the Union Trust Savings Bank building, a few doors further down the street from the present “Gift Shop” and there they will open what is planned to be one of the most artistic gift shops to be found anywhere and one that is bound to attract a great deal of attention and at the same time, do what all the many friends of the proprietors hope will be, a very lucrative business. They expect to open the shop around June 15.
Another important feature in connection with the formation of the partnership and the conducting of the gift shop already mentioned is the organization of an “Arts and Crafts Guild” in Santa Rosa, composed of a number of popular girls of the younger set. The members of the Guild will study among other things carving in leather, the modeling and tinting of plaster, and hand-wrought jewelry. Their workshop will be right in the gift shop and they will study under the personal direction and instruction of Miss Comstock and Miss Woodward. When they have attained proficiency the products of their skill will be placed on sale and thus they will participate in a financial way in the great business that will be inaugurated by the “Arts and Crafts Guild.”
A particularly pleasing feature of the whole affair, aside from the association of girls who are all personal friends and interested in each other’s welfare, and the pleasure of the work along such useful lines, is John Comstock’s assurance that there will never be an over production of the goods manufactured. He still retains control of the wholesale end and says he will find market for every article evolved by the skill of the Arts and Crafts Guild of Santa Rosa in the sale places of the world. The new firm and the
Guild is certainly wished much success.– Press Democrat, May 21, 1910
Santa Rosa’s latest acquisition for the study of art and subsequent development into the practical is the Arts and Crafts Guild, mention of which was made in the news column of this paper on Saturday in connection with the formation of the business partnership by Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Bess Woodward, to conduct the “Gift Shop.” The Arts and Crafts Guild is composed of a bevy of popular and clever girls, who are thoroughly interested in leather carving, modeling and tinting in plaster and in hand-wrought jewelry. They are Miss Jean Geary, Miss Dora Pierson, Miss Marian Pierson, Miss Cornelia Comstock, Miss Pauline Olson, Miss May McMeans, Miss Hazel Farmer, Miss Helen Woolsey and Miss Ester Scott. The instructors of the Guild will be Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Woodward. As has already been outlined, when the members of the Guild become proficient in their work their products will be placed on the market and then will come the development of the practical. The work is bound to be interesting and everybody will, I am sure, wish the girls all kinds of success in their venture. In their stride towards what I feel like calling happy independence.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, May 22, 1910
THE FORMAL OPENING OF THE GIFT SHOP
Miss Bess Woodward and Miss Catherine Comstock announce the formal opening of the “Gift Shop” of the Companeros in its new quarters, 626 Fourth street, Union Trust Bank building, on June 10. Mention was made in this paper some time since of the formation of the partnership between these young ladies and the organization of the Arts & Crafts League of Santa Rosa to which a bevy of popular girls belong.– Press Democrat, June 9, 1910
The formal opening of their art store and gift shop last Friday afternoon by Miss Bess Woodward and Miss Catherine Comstock partook of the nature of a social gathering. It was a large and admiring crowd that thronged the place. The popular girls, who with Miss Woodward and Miss Comstock form thee Arts & Crafts League were all present. Everybody was extending felicitations and wishing the girls success.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 12, 1910
With a sunburn that is the envy of many of the less fortunate ones who are still in town, Miss Marian Pierson, Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Cornelia Comstock and Miss Helen Woolsey have returned home after a very delightful time in camp near Lake Tahoe. They report having had an outing of unalloyed pleasure and they certainly look the picture of health and are “strictly in it” in these days when tan is the correct color to be acquired during summer vacations. The Messrs. Comstock have also returned from Tahoe.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, July 10, 1910
HILLIARD COMSTOCK WILL PLAY IN TOURNAMENT
Hillyard [sic] Comstock, of Santa Rosa’s best tennis players, will participate in the state tournament that is to be held at Berkeley. He will be entered in the championship and the handicap events and hopes to do pretty well in the latter. He went to Berkeley Monday morning to be at the courts when his matches are called. James R. Edwards and W. H. Pyburn Jr. will play in the Del Monte tournament when that contest is begun in the near future.– Santa Rosa Republican, August 22, 1910
“The Crafters,” an eastern publication, devotes considerable space in its current issue to a writeup of “the Companeros” of this city, devoting considerable space to the well known attainments of John Comstock. It also prints an excellent portrait of Mr. Comstock and pictures of some of his art work and also of his sister. The article also mentions in a very complimentary manner the artistic work done by Miss Comstock and Miss Bess Woodward and the Arts and Crafts Club of this city, composed of a number of our talented girls. As the “Crafter” only devotes its columns to the doers of arts and crafts that count the publication just mentioned is particularly pleasing.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, December 4, 1910