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.


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


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


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


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

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A year after the Comstocks settled in Santa Rosa, the newspapers began to take notice that a truly remarkable family had arrived.

The first 1909 report on Comstock family members was little more than a “personal mention” item that was probably overlooked by most readers as trivial news: “Hilyard [sic] Comstock…has taken up the study of law. He is reading with Colonel J. W. Oates…” The Press Democrat must be forgiven for not anticipating that this was the launch of a career that would impact Santa Rosa for the next half century; what’s unforgivable, however, is that the PD didn’t explain why this was such a newsworthy story. “Hilyard” was barely 18 years old and had no formal education aside from homeschooling by his mother and tutors, and James Wyatt Oates, a splenetic 59 year-old maverick who had never accepted a law partner, was now taking under his wing a young man whom he had only known for a few months. And for an extra poignant twist, Oates was following in the footsteps of his own brother, who had similarly educated him in the ways of the law when he was about the same age.

The Press Democrat may have misspelled Hilliard’s name, but they were right in noting that he was an avid tennis player. Both he and older sister Cornelia were active in the Santa Rosa Tennis Club, and there were items in both papers about him playing in local competitions. Tennis was apparently a swell way to meet girls; a couple of the sports articles reported that matches drew good-sized audiences, “most of whom were of the fair sex.” The papers weren’t done mangling his name, by the way; he was “Hillyard” in another PD tennis item, and the Santa Rosa Republican sports reporter just gave up and called him “H. Comstock.”

The Republican paper also published a short feature article on eldest brother John Adams Comstock, who was already respected as a word-class scientist – and like all the other Comstock siblings, homeschooled by their extraordinary mother, Nellie. The Republican reporter ooh’ed appropriately at Comstock’s enormous butterfly collection, which was supposedly the best in the nation. (His 1927 survey, “Butterflies of California,” remains the definitive work on the topic.)

John and his sisters were also famed artisan leather workers, trained at the famed Roycroft arts colony. Calling themselves “The Companeros,” their work won highest prizes at state and national competitions, which drew further attention from the 1909 Santa Rosa newspapers.

But the most unusual item on the Comstocks to appear that year was a wire story from Chicago concerning the estate of Judge Harvey B. Hurd, who was Nellie’s father and the grandfather of Hilliard and his six brothers and sisters. Yes, both papers often wrote about inheritances and the value of estates when prominent local citizens died, but I don’t recall any instance where readers were plainly told how much a resident had inherited from someone outside the area. In this case, however, it was a newsworthy story: The Comstocks had real estate in Chicago and Evanston worth about $200,000 which was to be held in trust for Nellie’s children. Projecting the value of that trust in terms of economic status, it would have been worth over $27 million today. In other words, the Comstocks weren’t just richer than anyone else in Santa Rosa – they were worth more than most local banks at the time.

Nellie Comstock and her children were probably the smartest, the most industrious, and the wealthiest family Santa Rosa had ever seen, but were together here only for a few years. John left for Southern California to study medicine; most of the others drifted to Carmel, where they were instrumental in founding the arts scene, endowed with generous donations from the Comstocks. That could have been Santa Rosa’s future instead, and more’s the pity.


Hilyard Comstock, one of the Comstock brothers, tennis players, has taken up the study of law. He is reading with Colonel J. W. Oates. Mr. Comstock has many friends who will wish him all success in his studies, and they predict that it will not be long before he can be hanging out his shingle. He means to “dig” and such a determination always augurs for success.

– Press Democrat, April 20, 1909

The Tennis Championship Between These Two

This afternoon James H. Edwards and H. Comstock are playing the championship set to decide who is entitled to the tennis honors of this city. These two have worked their way to the top, having won all the sets which they have played.

The preliminary games in the Santa Rosa championship tournament were played at the Santa Rosa Tennis Club’s courts Sunday morning and the games brought out some exceptionally good plays. Most of the contests were very close and the court was in ideal condition. The audience which witnessed the games was largely composed of ladies. Much interest centered in the games that James R. Edwards participated in. He was looked upon as a likely candidate for the championship honors.


– Santa Rosa Republican, May 31, 1909

Mrs. Nellie Comstock and daughters, the Misses Cornelia and Katherine Comstock, and Messrs. Hilliard and Hugh Comstock are all encamped at Eaglenest. Hilliard will come over next Wednesday to participate in the finals of the gentlemen’s doubles in the tennis championship, which will be played at 5:30 o’clock in the afternoon.

– “Many Social Events in City of Roses”, Santa Rosa Republican, July 3, 1909

Won the Championship Tennis Doubles

The Santa Rosa tennis championship for gentlemen’s doubles was determined Wednesday evening on the Santa Rosa Tennis Club’s courts. The honor of the tournament and the large silver loving cup was won by George Palmer and Hilliard Comstock. A large number of spectators, most of whom were of the fair sex, were present and watched the final match in which the winners were opposed by Temple Smith and A. W. Scott.


– Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1909

Individual Awards at Sacramento in Addition to the Big Prizes Given the Sonoma County Display

In addition to the big prizes won by the Sonoma County exhibit at the State Fair that has just closed in Sacramento individual premiums were won as follows…

…”The Companeros,” whose establishment is in the Masonic Temple building in this city, won first prize for the best piece of tool leather…


– Press Democrat, September 9, 1909

John Comstock Has One of Best in United States

A large number of the close friends of John Comstock, manager of the Companeros Gift Shop, even among those who know him quite well, are not aware that he has a splendid collection of butterflies. He has, however, one of the best collections of United States butterflies owned in this country. Mr. Comstock seldom speaks of his collection, but to those who show an interest in the matter he is quite willing to show his collection and explain the differences to be seen in the many different kinds of butterflies.

He was for several years the recorder of the lepidopteral section of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and during that time and for several years afterward he spent a large portion of his spare time and holidays collecting the pretty little winged insects that fly among the flowers. Although Mr. Comstock’s collection is particularly one of butterflies of the United States, yet he has saved a few of the large, beautiful and highly colored butterflies from Brazil and other tropical countries that have come into his possession. These however, he does not count as being in his United States collection.

In his collection there are about three thousand butterflies. Of this number there are five hundred and some odd different species of the butterfly. There are seven hundred and fifty known species of butterflies in this country, so it will be seen that Mr. Comstock’s collection contains a large portion of those in existence. He himself in his research work has discovered four varieties of the butterfly not previously known, and is accredited with these discoveries by lepidopteral scientists. One of these varieties, which lives only in the high mountains of Colorado is worth $10 each.

In nearly all cases he has secured three specimens of each species, a male and female each. The third one is for the purpose of showing the coloring of the under side of the wings.

California, with its long stretch from the north to the south and its high mountains and valleys, contains a very large number of different kinds of butterflies and is considered as the best field of research to be found anywhere in one state. Mr. Luther Burbank has seen the collection and evinced a great deal of interest in the systematic manner in which it is kept. A large part of the collection Mr. Comstock gathered himself, but still a good many he has secured by trading with other collectors.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 24, 1909

Mrs. Comstock Divides Estate Among Children

CHICAGO, Sept. 24–William S. Young has taken title to an undivided one-half interest to eleven parcels of real estate which Mrs. Nellie Hurd Comstock of Santa Rosa, Cal., inherited from her father, the late Harvey H. Hurd of Evanston. Mr. Young, as trustee, is to pay to her during her life the net income, and on her death to pay it to her children. The property includes an undivided one-half interest in 52 and 54 Lake street, 24 by 140 feet, improved with a five story building. The property at 52 and 54 Lake street was valued by the Board of Review at $83,295, of which $10,000 is in the building.

The foregoing dispatch was received Monday, and it was further learned that Mrs. Nellie H. Comstock, having a life interest left her by her father, Judge Harvey B. Hurd of Chicago, in his estate, and after dividing the estate among her seven children, Mrs. Comstock placed it back in trust to her children, retaining only the life interest. This was in accordance with her father’s wishes. William S. Young was one of the trustees appointed by him. A sister of Mrs. Comstock some time ago brought successful suit to secure the fee simple of the estate for Mrs. Comstock. The property consists of real estate in Chicago and Evanston, and is approximately worth $200,000.

The late Judge Hurd was for a long time dean of the law faculty of the Northwestern University at Evanston, and for thirty years was engaged in revising the statutes of Illinois. He was the author of several measures passed by the legislature of that state. One of them was the child labor law authorizing the creation of a juvenile court. Another was the Torrens land law, which obviated the necessity of securing abstracts to title of land on the part of those making purchase of same. This measure was adopted in California, but owing to the way the legislature handled it, it met with indifferent success.

Mrs. Comstock lives a short distance outside of Santa Rosa on a ranch. Five of her seven children reside in this city.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 27, 1909

Receives Gold Medal at Seattle Exposition

The Gift Shop of the Companeros carried off the gold medal and highest award at the arts and craft exhibition of the A. Y. P. exposition.

This is the second honor of its kind that has come to the Companeros, the first being a blue ribbon first award at Sacramento, for art leather work.

These are the only competitive exhibitions that the Gift Shop has entered this year, and the result speaks well for the quality of the work produced.

Since its establishment here the gift shop has attained considerable of a reputation in the far east for its creations in the fine arts. Over fifty of the largest cities in America are included on their list of agencies. They also hold a membership in three of the most exclusive Arts and Crafts Societies in the United States, namely the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the National Society of Craftsmen of New York City, and the Daedalus Guild of Philadelphia.

This December will see their work entered in five fine art exhibitions, including that given in Berkeley by the Berkeley Art Association, but as these are not competitive, no awards are expected.

The Gift Shop is becoming an object of pilgrimage to many California craftsmen, and is well worth a visit, for those who love beautiful things.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 12, 1909

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In obituaries and family lore there are two stories about why the Comstocks came to California. Neither is truly right.

When matriarch Nellie Comstock died in 1940, the Press Democrat told readers the family moved here because of a “letter from Burbank, a warm personal friend of Mrs. Comstock’s inducing her to come to Santa Rosa was received while the family was visiting in California. After a short stay in this city, Mrs. Comstock decided to move here.” Her daughter-in-law, Helen Finley Comstock, said in an oral history that Nellie and her eldest son, John, came out to visit Burbank in 1907, then “they came out in 1908 for the summer…and they loved it so that they never went back.” First, there was no known friendship or correspondence between Nellie and Luther (son John is another story, as we’ll see), so odds of Burbank arm-twisting are thin. And they didn’t make an impetuous decision after taking Santa Rosa for a summer test drive. It was quite clear that the Comstocks originally settled here with the deliberate goals of obtaining the best raw materials for their handicrafts – plus the chance to join some of the top artists in America in pioneering a bold new movement on the West Coast.

Between April and May, 1908, the Comstocks moved into their home on Hoen Avenue. This was Rural Route 5 at the time so there wasn’t a street number, but we know it was adjacent to Matanzas Creek, somewhere around the Farmer’s Lane intersection. Nellie was 51. Five of her seven children lived at the old farmhouse with her: Catherine (22) and Cornelia (20) along with teenagers Frank, Hilliard, and Hugh. Her son Hurd, who was starting his career in banking, remained behind in Illinois. Eldest son John (25) had a wife and a toddler with another child on the way, so they purchased a house at 965 Sonoma Avenue, on the corner of Brookwood Av. that’s now the Santa Rosa police department. In a bit of believe-it-or-not coincidence, directly across the street was – and still is – one of the handful of homes in Santa Rosa designed by Brainerd Jones, the architect of (what would become known as) Comstock House.

Nellie had homeschooled all of her children, hiring additional tutors as needed. They all possessed remarkable minds, but the blazing star was John Adams Comstock Jr. He was already recognized as an important biologist in the study of butterflies, and the recorder (the position directly below chairman) of the entomological section for the prestigious Chicago Academy of Sciences. It was John who spent eleven days with Burbank the year before – no mention of Nellie, although she often took trips with her other children – where the two self-taught scientists compared notes. The perpetually disorganized Burbank was particularly curious to learn more about Comstock’s system for cataloging a large collection (more on this topic will be discussed in a later item).

But John was far more than a bug-collecting nerd. He was also an accomplished artist, as were his sisters Catherine and Cornelia. Together, the three young people spent some time at the Roycroft Colony founded by Elbert Hubbard. And they were young indeed – all their names appeared on the 1903 Roycroft payroll records, when Cornelia was only fifteen.


For an introduction to Elbert Hubbard and the Roycroft community, watch the 2009 PBS documentary “Elbert Hubbard: An American Original,” which can be viewed free. The “Early Artisans” section of that web page also provides a very good overview of the Arts & Crafts movement. But what you won’t learn there is a definition of the Arts & Crafts style.

Even though a century has passed since its peak, work produced by the Arts & Crafts movement can still be tricky to identify, which is all the more remarkable because that same period saw the rise of styles that were easy to recognize – think how easy it is to spot almost anything Art Nouveau or Art Deco. But something that came out of an Arts & Crafts workshop might look as if it were made a hundred, even four hundred years earlier, or it might be something that looks modernistic even today. No visual arts movement had ever peered so deeply into past and future simultaneously.

The artists who created these works were likewise impossible to pigeonhole. Much of it came out of small architectural offices and artisan workshops. To promote and sell their work, those who created handcrafts joined a local Arts & Crafts guild/society, which sponsored annual exhibitions (professionals who sold crafts nationwide, such as the Companeros, also belonged to guilds in other cities). There were a handful of Arts & Crafts utopian colonies that made things while hewing close to the handmade-only ideology of Ruskin and Morris, and on the other end of the scale were companies turning out products in a factory setting, such as United Crafts, owned by Gustav Stickley and which built furniture in his new “mission style.” The popularity of Arts & Crafts-type goods also attracted knockoff artists; one such outfit was the “United Crafts and Arts of California,” which cleverly sounded like a statewide guild merged with Stickley’s respected brand name.

Unique in the Arts & Crafts world was Hubbard’s Roycroft community. No other group approached it in size; thousands worked there over the years (a 1909 magazine article stated over 500 were currently there) although most were paid next to nothing, a frequent point of criticism of the operation. A great variety of objects were created, but no designs compared to Stickley’s mission furniture in artistic importance. Yet the Roycroft Shops made the greatest overall impact on the Arts & Crafts movement by virtue of the army of people who worked there and learned some skills, became imbued with Hubbard’s revolutionary ideals, and then returned to their hometowns as evangelists for the Roycroft creed. The colony survived Hubbard’s death in 1915 and finally closed its doors in 1938, over twenty years after obituaries were written for the rest of the Arts & Crafts movement.

They worked in the the Leather Shop, Catherine and Cornelia as modelers (a description of this kind of work can be found here) and John as a designer. Today, leatherwork might seem an otiose skill, but at the turn of the century leather products were part of everyday life; the Roycrofters had an entire catalog of leather goods. You could even say that leather was in the Comstock blood; when the three were very young, their father was president of the Western Leather Manufacturing Company in Chicago, which made high-quality medical bags for physicians and veterinarians (these antique cases are still available on eBay and elsewhere under the trade name “Welemaco”).

The Roycroft community was something of a finishing school for the Comstocks. Besides the life-changing experience of suddenly living with hundreds of people close to their own age, available to them were top artisans in every field. Roycrofters were encouraged to dabble with new skills in the various shops; mention of John Comstock’s Roycroft experiences that appeared in later academic profiles note that he tried his hand in “furniture design, bookbinding and illustrations, metal work, and jewelry design” (curiously, his years in leather crafting were never mentioned in these thumbnail biographies).

John and Catherine Comstock continued leatherworking after leaving the Roycroft shops, forming a company they named “The Companeros” (always without the tilde ñ), and being closer to their favorite tannery was said to be the main reason they came to Santa Rosa in April 1908. The Republican newspaper reported, “For some time past these talented young people have been using Santa Rosa leather, securing the same through Chicago. It occurred to them that there would be many advantages in residing here…They make this leather into a large variety of useful articles, including ladies’ purses, book bindings of novel effects, and card cases. The process of waterproofing and staining the leather is of their own creation and they are the only persons making this class of goods so far as known at the present time.”

The Companeros wasted no time in establishing a presence on the West Coast, where the Arts & Crafts movement was rapidly gaining belated attention.* The Arts & Crafts show in Oakland that autumn was the first big exhibition west of Chicago, and the Companeros were there with a private booth. In 1909 their leatherwork won a gold medal at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYPE) in Seattle, and first prize at the California State Fair. Reference can be found that their leather was sold at the Shop of Fine Arts and Industries in Portland, and probably most other stores nationwide that specialized in professional Arts & Crafts goods. A few years later, Companeros products could be found for sale in over fifty cities.

The Companeros also introduced themselves to Santa Rosa by opening an art store in the Masonic Building at the corner of Fourth and D (today that building footprint is FedEx/Peet’s Coffee plus Stanroy’s). This may have been thought a bit odd at first, as there already were two art stores on Fourth St. But Bruener’s mainly offered utilitarian things for sale such as wallpaper and paint, while Hall’s art store was where you found cheap art and gee gaws, like a framed lithograph to hang over a hole in your wall or a miniature plaster Venus de Milo. What the Comstocks offered was in a different orbit entirely: California landscape paintings by John Gamble and Kate Newhall, copper work from the studio of Dirk van Erp, pottery from the shops of Artus Van Briggle and William Grueby. This was some of the best fine art being produced at the time anywhere, and was already being collected by museums in America and abroad. “Truly, this is a bit of Boston come to town,” gushed the Santa Rosa Republican.

“The Gift Shop” remained in business at least four years, the last and best description of the store appearing in a 1912 promotional insert from the Republican newspaper. John left the company in late 1910 or early 1911 to study medicine in Los Angeles. Around that same time the shop moved to 626 Fourth street (which is currently a gift shop, appropriately enough). Catherine Comstock took over John’s role as as manager and designer of The Companeros, with sister Cornelia as artist.

None of The Companeros’ leather work is known to survive (which isn’t surprising, given that these were objects intended to be used often and not placed on display). All that remains is a small ten page pamphlet printed by them in Santa Rosa, date unknown. The title was “The Soul of the Nation,” and the author was their mother, Nellie Comstock. A PDF copy of the essay is available in the Comstock House digital library, courtesy the Comstock family.

* So great was public interest that the Press Democrat began running Elbert Hubbard’s syndicated column, “Roycroft Philosophy by Fra Elbertus” in August of 1908. Here were Hubbard’s popular and quotable zingers (“do not take life too seriously — you will never get out of it alive anyway”) and tips for the clueless on how to act civilized (“the chewing of gum, tobacco or paper as a jaw-exerciser should be eliminated. The world is pronouncing them vulgar, unbusinesslike and dangerous. Keep ahead of your foreman and the Board of Health in this thing”). Never mentioned in these columns were his earlier and more provocative views, such as proclaiming he was simultaneously a socialist and an anarchist, just like Jesus.
The Companeros Will Establish Studio Here

The fame of Luther Burbank and the leather made in Santa Rosa is responsible for the coming to this city of some talented young people of artistic tastes, who will make their permanent home and establish a studio here.

Miss Catherine Comstock and her brother, John Comstock, have been engaged in business in Evanston, Illinois, for some time past, as “The Companeros,” a Spanish word, “companions.” They have processes of modeling leather and staining the same, the modeling and color effects making something decidedly attractive and fine. In this city they will establish a studio, make up the goods, and give employment to young ladies of Santa Rosa who have artistic tastes. With these young people is their brother, Frank Comstock, and in a month the remainder of the family will be here.

As to the permanence of their home here John Comstock has already purchased a ranch out on Hoen avenue, where he has ten acres set out in fruit and where he and the family will make their home and indulge in rural tastes.

For some time past these talented young people have been using Santa Rosa leather, securing the same through Chicago. It occurred to them that there would be many advantages in residing here, chiefly among them being climactic influences, the fact that they would save money in the freight on leather used, and the cost of living being less here than in their Evanston home. John Comstock has for many years been in touch with Luther Burbank’s work and at one time spent eleven days with Mr. Burbank in this city. He was recorder of the entomological section of the Academy of Sciences in Chicago for some time and has the largest collection of bugs outside of Chicago.

The new comers to Santa Rosa have revived the work of remodeling leather, which is a thousand years old, and was found on the saddles of the Assyrians. They make this leather into a large variety of useful articles, including ladies’ purses, book bindings of novel effects, and card cases. The process of waterproofing and staining the leather is of their own creation and they are the only persons making this class of goods so far as known at the present time.

Two trained workers in the business of the Companeros, young ladies, are en route from the east to this city, to take up the work. The new comers have contracts from eastern houses sufficient to make their venture here an unqualified success.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 2, 1908

Articles Shown at Idora Park Attract Attention

At the Arts and Crafts exhibition at Idora Park, in Oakland, last week, a number of Santa Rosans were among the exhibitors…

…The Companeros have a separate booth for the display of their handwrought leather work, which has been adjudged by many of the artists to be the finest, or one of the finest, in the exhibition. It is tastefully decorated in green and their attractive leather shows to good advantage. The work which these young people are doing has already attained a reputation in Boston and the far east as the standard of perfection in leather modeling. Santa Rosans do not realize what is being done in their midst in this line, but the larger cities of the union are in touch with the art.


– Santa Rosa Republican, October 28, 1908

Art Novelties Being Made in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa is to have an innovation. A real arts and crafts shop is among us. A cozy decorative nook has been erected in the Masonic Temple, rooms 23 and 24, which will be a delight to the lovers of the Rose City; such an out-of-the-way corner as one might except [sic] to run across in the by-ways of London or Berlin.

Here on display one may see quaint bits of metal work, fashioned by hand, beautiful prints, in limited editions, decorated leather such as the Germans delight in, choice exclusive samples of pottery, handcraft jewelry, Christmas cards, colored mottos–the work of skilled and nimble fingers, and a host of clever things that will be found nowhere else. Truly, this is a bit of Boston come to town.

This establishment calls itself the Gift Shop, and is the creation of the Companeros, workers in leather. These young artists have been located for some time in the Masonic Temple. Their work in leather has won for them recognition from the art critics of the country. Wherever one finds a shop where things unique are on display, where the art lovers delight to linger, there one is pretty sure to find their work.

Mr. John Comstock and Miss Catherine Comstock are the designers for the company. The former is a member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the National Society of Craftsmen, the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society and other art organizations.

Outside of the bay cities Santa Barbara and Sacramento, Santa Rosa will have the only arts and crafts shop in the State.

Massachusetts is the real home of American arts and crafts, and these quaint and unique shops are the main feature of this center of culture for those who love the beautiful.

John Ruskin and William Morris may be said to be the fathers of this movement, which has grown to international importance. The world owes Morris a debt of gratitude which it is only now beginning to realize. His influence is felt in every truly artistic home in England and America, alike in the scheme of decoration and in the furnishings. The gift shop is worthy of mention in this last respect. In the plan of decoration a rich yellow tint has been used in the ceiling, to give the necessary light to the predominating soft green of the side walls, and antique brown of the woodwork. All the furnishings were made or selected to carry with this color scheme. Around the room runs a bracketed plate shelf, and pendant from this on each side of the doors leaded art glass lamps are hung. Above the plate shelf are a series of colored prints by Jules Guerin, foremost of American colorists, for conventional decorative effect.

Many people have asked the meaning of the word “Companeros.” This is the Spanish word for comrades, and was chosen by Mr. Comstock as a suggestion of the organization, which is conducted for the interests of all the workers.

The gift shop is to have its official opening Wednesday next and an invitation is extended to all to visit the studio and workroom.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 14, 1908

Several months ago there was established in Santa Rosa a company of craftsmen, calling themselves The Companeros, whose endeavor was to produce work in hand-wrought leather that would meet the approval of the world’s best critics. Beginning with no visible market, this work has now become known in al parts of the United States and is on sale in over fifty citiies including New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Finding there was a demand in Santa Rosa for fine art productions, the Companeros established the Gift Shop for the sale and exhibition of work in various lines that conform to a high conception of the word art. The Gift Shop, over which Miss Catherine Comstock has charge, is on Fourth street and is one of the most attractive and artistically arranged and furnished places in Santa Rosa. Here is displayed productions of America’s foremost artists and craftsmen–work that is usually to be seen only in large Eastern cities. The exclusive agency is secured on all lines which are carried, and the fact that the Companeros are large producers makes it possible to offer better value on this kind of work than can be found elsewhere. The following are a few things to be seen at the Gift Shop: hand beaten copper by Dirk van Erp, The Handcraft Guild, The Little Craft Shop, The Companeros, and others; pottery, Van Briggle, Grueby, Newcomb and others; hand decorated post cards and booklets; hand wrought leather work by the Companeros; Suede leather work; choice fabrics, including the Companeros’ stencils on hand woven Russian linen crash; Christmas motto and post cards in large variety; art studies in photography; oil paintings by John Gamble, Kate Newhall and others; choice pastels, prints and water colors and a great variety of exclusive novelties. In addition to having charge of the Gift Shop, Miss Comstock takes classes in Santa Rosa and Berkeley. She is an accomplished artist, whose rare ability has won her high criticism from the most noted critics of the country.

– “Sonoma County Development Number of the Santa Rosa Republican,” c. 1912

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