R.I.P. Max R. Jensen 1920-2010

May 10th, 2010 @ 12:31 am by Cliffe | Sorted Miscellaneous |
It is with great sadness that I share the news Max R. Jensen passed away in his home last week. Anyone who visits this blog regularly will know the name through the many postcard photos presented. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of his work documenting Seattle and the Pacific Northwest from the 1940′s through 1980′s. He took the torch of Asahel Curtis and ran with it, making himself into a Seattle institution.

Last summer I had the good fortune of visiting and getting to know Max at his Shoreline home. It all started with an e-mail right out of the blue asking if I was interested in seeing his photograph collection. Being that I’d studied this man’s work for years, I was amazed that I might get the chance to meet him. He explained to me that he was getting on in years (he was almost 90) and before he donated his massive postcard and photo collection to MOHAI, he wondered if I might want to scan them to put on Vintage Seattle. I jumped at the chance and not only did I scan some amazing and important work, I met one of the nicest and most humble men I’ve known. At 89 years old he was full of life, full of anecdotes and I noted to myself that I only hope to be half as spry as he is should I reach h
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is age. We kept in touch over many months and several visits to his home. When I’d completed the scanning work he was very appreciative and presented me with a framed postcard of the Kalakala that he had photographed in the 1950′s. With his passing I can say that Seattle has lost one of its historical pioneers and his work will stand for years to come as the gold standard for mid-century forward photography.

For those that are new to Vintage Seattle, you can acquaint yourself with Max R. Jensen’s work here. I will continue the mission of making sure every single piece of his work that I scanned makes it onto the blog so that the public can see what he captured over the years. This will serve as a tribute to his life and the city we’re lucky to call home.
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Max’s daughter Diane McGovern was kind enough to send along this biography and photo.
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I’ve included it in its entirety.
Max Raymond Jensen
10/6/1920 – 5/4/2010

Loving and beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Good friend and favorite customer/client/patient to 100s. Predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Frances A. (Fritz) Jensen, his brother Duane, sister-in-law Rose Jensen, and brother-in-law Milton Moldenhauer. Survived by his three daughters, Linda Odegard, Diane McGovern, and Karen Smith; son-in-law, Warren Odegard; his brother Leon; sisters-in-law Shirley Moldenhauer and Lois Jensen; several grandchildren and great-grandchildren; several cousins; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Max was born in Walla Walla, Washington, to Ellen and Chris Jensen, the oldest of three boys. He graduated from Pomeroy High School in 1938. He took some courses at WSU until he accidentally broke someone’s collarbone while in a wrestling competition and felt so badly he decided to start working instead of completing a college education. He came to Seattle to work at the encouragement of his cousin.

Max and Frances (Fran) met in October 1939, while roller skating (a favorite pastime of theirs) at the Ridge Rink in North Seattle, and married December 22, 1941. When they were dating, Max didn’t like the name Frances, so he told her that she could choose between his calling her Butchie or Stinky (for no apparent reason). Fran didn’t like either choice, but decided Butchie would be the least objectionable, and from then on that is all he called her, and that is how she signed all her cards to him.

Max and Fran cleared a big piece of land and built their home in what is now Shoreline, from the mid- to late-40s (still not quite complete). When Fran designed the home, she was adamant that it would be one level, with easy accessibility to all areas, for when they grew old and maybe needed a wheelchair–they really planned ahead, and it was a good thing!

Max served in the SeaBees in Pt. Barrow, Alaska, during World War II (where he endured an appendectomy without the benefit of anesthetic [they had run out], and where he tested the coldness of an axe blade outdoors, in the middle of winter, with his tongue!). Max was a long-time structural ironworker (Local 86) at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, in the shipyards in Bremerton, at Boeing, on the TV towers on Queen Anne Hill, the Norton Building and other buildings in Seattle, including at Sand Point Naval Air Station, the I-90 floating bridge, and Scott Paper Mill in Everett, among other things, and was scheduled to work in Iran in the late 1950s (and was thrown a big send-off party) but the trip was canceled at the last minute due to political unrest in Iran. He quit ironworking after about 25 years, much to Fran’s chagrin (no future retirement pay), after he believed he had used up 8 of his 9 lives (several close calls). Max was a photographer and was the only commercial photographer allowed on the grounds of the Seattle World’s Fair and up in the Space Needle when they were under construction (probably because of his ironworking experience, especially walking on unprotected I-beams at great heights), and was one of only two commercial photographers allowed to photograph the Seattle World’s Fair for postcards the other was in California, so Max took the majority of the postcard pictures. He also took pictures for 100s of postcards and brochures of the ever-changing Seattle skyline and the Puget Sound region, as well as the entire Pacific Northwest (see VintageSeattle.org, an excellent, educational, ever-expanding, and just-plain-enjoyable website by Jess Cliffe). Max took numerous pictures, and wrote the accompanying articles, which were featured several times in the Sunday Pictorial section of The Seattle Times. He also took many and varied pictures for View-Master 3-D reels, including the Indy 500. Max was a jeweler and lapidary (learned from his father-in-law) and produced 1000s of pieces of semi-precious stone jewelry, as well as 100s of pieces of beautiful and unique, custom-designed jewelry and other art objects crafted from gold, silver, fossil ivory, jade, petrified wood, etc. He was an artist (oil and watercolor paintings, and collages), and a craftsman (woodworking including woodturning, and the repair and restoration of antique furniture, art objects, and jewelry).

In the mid 70s, Max returned once again to Alaska to help the North American Native Association (NANA) determine how to haul out and process huge jade boulders (some as large as a house) from Jade Mountain, after Max’s determining the best use of the boulders based on their color and quality by examining core samples. He helped design the building for the jade processing operation, and helped design and build the equipment to process the jade. Max helped NANA get their jade business up-and-running, including taking a trip to several countries in the Orient to set up business connections for them there. The jade was made into sculptures (including one approximately 12 x 8 which Max worked on and is in the Federal Building in Alaska), murals, art pieces, and floors for hotels and office buildings around the world, various other art objects, and jewelry. He worked (and lived) at Jade Mountain and Kotzebue for over two years, with occasional visits to his family in Seattle.

Max knew how to do just about everything; if he didn’t know something, he would look it up or figure it out himself. He loved being creative, and if he needed a specific tool for some project and nobody had what he wanted, he would design and build it himself. He loved to learn about anything and everything. He took numerous classes at the local community college and elsewhere over the years, read many books on widely varying subjects, and enjoyed watching educational programs on television (including some cooking shows on PBS in his later years!).

Max loved hiking in the North Cascades (especially the Enchantments). He and Fran loved being on or near the water and took many trips to various beaches around Puget Sound, on the Olympic Peninsula, and down the Pacific Coast (all chronicled by thousands and thousands of pictures taken by both of them — still unsorted).

Max tried hard liquor once, but never again (enough said), and he never drank beer, only wine a couple of times, made by his sister-in-law or Fran’s aunt. Max never lied, cheated, gambled, or smoked, and he tried extremely hard not to swear in front of his wife and three daughters (it was a very infrequent occurrence, but it had quite an impact when he did). His only major vice was sweets, especially See’s candy!

Max was always available to help anyone and everyone with absolutely anything. He would constantly go out of his way to help people, and he was a mentor to many. His quick wit and dry sense of humor endeared him to everyone’s family, a multitude of friends including neighbors, librarians, store clerks, mechanics, bank tellers, fellow artists and jewelers, and many, many doctors and other healthcare workers over the years, as well as his Hospice team, some of whom remembered him from when they were attending to Fran almost four years prior and were very happy to see him again, except for the circumstances. Literally everyone he came into contact with enjoyed him and his humorous, upbeat, and always positive attitude. He was also a great storyteller — he had lots and lots of interesting personal stories to tell anyone who would listen.

Max took amazing 24/7 care of Fran (Butchie), for her final two years when she was very ill. He had told her that was his wish that he would be able to take care of her until the end — which he did. Then his major physical difficulties (after a hip replacement, heart valve replacement [his valve job], and other surgeries), including severe arthritis in his neck and back, congestive heart failure, stage 4 kidney failure, etc., all became worse and worse. But he always had a positive attitude, always very much appreciated the excellent care he and Fran received from their numerous doctors, nurses, Hospice teams, and medics over the years (and always told them so), and he was always telling jokes.

A couple of weeks before Max died he took a fall and was put into a hospital bed at his home, where he remained 24/7 until he died. His daughter Linda and her husband, Warren, (who both moved in with him after his fall), as well as his Hospice team, took excellent care of him, but he was in so much pain after his fall that he made up his mind and was anxious to just “get it over with”. He was on heavy-duty painkillers, but he still was in terrible pain. He had been asking the Hospice nurses if they could give him something to speed up the process (of dying), but they kept explaining that they were there to help ease the pain and make him as comfortable as possible–he was very frustrated. Anyway, a few days before he died, one of the nurses told him that he was getting his wish, that he was dying. Max, always the wiseguy, said, “Do I have to sign a Release?” Of course, everyone cracked up, and he was happy to make people laugh, one last time — a “smart-aleck” to the end!

Max’s life was devoted to creating beautiful things — a loving family, lasting friendships, and unique and varied artistic objects. All of Max’s family and friends will greatly miss this humble, humorous, highly intelligent, honest, honorable, and first-class man.
Max R. Jensen 10/6/1920 – 5/4/2010

31 Responses to “R.I.P. Max R. Jensen 1920-2010”

  1. Jana says:

    Thank you for sharing his work with us. What a beautiful tribute, Jess.

  2. Amy Enns-Ford says:

    Wow! What a beautiful obit. It makes me wish that I had had a chance to meet him. You are very lucky Jess. RIP Max.

  3. Jess, thanks for this. A great tribute to someone who has contributed so much to this community’s enjoyment and edification. I’m so glad that you were able to get to know Max — what a happy thing. I’m looking forward to your posting more of his material.

  4. Shannon C. says:

    Jess, I am so glad that you are paying constant tribute to him. Very sad to hear that he died. As someone who works in hospice, I’m glad he had a good hospice team around him at the end.

    Bring on the photos!

  5. Colin says:

    That was a beautiful story. Sounds like a person I would’ve liked to know.

  6. Bobby says:

    By viewing this website and looking through books, I’m learning that I have quite a collection of Mr. Jensen’s work. I’m proud to display this work to all of my friends who come over. Thank you for showing us what a beautiful city we live in. You will be missed.

  7. Ben Lukoff says:

    Wow. Sorry to hear this.

  8. ChrisA says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jess. A great bio, written by Max’s daughter. Sad to lose him, but what an inspiring life he led.

  9. Lynn says:

    What an inspiring life Mr. Jensen has led, thank you for taking the time to honor it here and post his work. I realize that much of what I know of what Seattle looked like was captured through Mr. Jensen’s eyes in his iconic images. The magic of photography as a shade of imortality! Rest in peace.

  10. Janet says:

    Thanks for posting this. A life well lived. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

  11. gedward says:

    Seattle is very lucky to have had such a photographic historian as Max to capture the city over several decades. Thanks for sharing his images.

  12. John F. says:

    Thank-you, Mr. Jess Cliffe, for posting this. I stop-in to visit VS every so often (alway enjoy my stay)… but have not been here for several weeks (or more). I did not hear about Mr. Jensen’s passing. I have tears in my eyes. My dad was a photo nut (b. 1928, d. 1997). I am also “into” picture-taking — but not to the same degree my dad was (and certainly nowhere near Jensen). My point… growing-up as a kid and being around my dad, I came to appreciate photographic quality. Our family would come up to Seattle on occasion in the 1960′s and early 1970′s (from the Puyallup Valley) and then I attended the UW starting in 1977. At any point during those years, if I was out-and-about town, I’d usually come across a postcard display rack. If something caught my eye, I’d look at the back and the credit would almost ALWAYS say… “Photo by Max Jensen” and I’d buy it because I knew it was the real deal. What a truly wonderful and remarkable gift he gave to all of us.

  13. Diane (Max Jensen's daughter) says:

    Thank you all for your heartwarming comments about our dad; my sisters and I appreciate them very much. Oddly, we never really thought much about his work, including his photos for hundreds of postcards and brochures, etc., except that he was doing whatever he could to support his family. When I came across VintageSeattle.org last year and read some of Jess’s comments, it really sank in what an impact our dad had on the whole area: as an ironworker helping to build the city, then as a photographer helping to record the history of the city, and in so many other ways. When I put together the “bio”, it brought all the multiple and wide-ranging aspects of his life together in a way my sisters and I had never considered before. There were so many other things that I could have added to the “bio” (for example, Max became an Eagle Scout at 14), but I ran out of room on the paper I was printing it on to send out to friends and relatives–not to mention the fact that I would have been writing and editing for weeks!

    When I read comments like those above, it makes me feel very proud of him and his accomplishments. And I’m so glad that I ran into Jess’s website and strongly urged my dad to contact him. My very humble and unassuming dad kept insisting, “Oh, no. He wouldn’t be interested in talking to me.” I kept after him until he finally wrote an email to Jess, and the rest is now more than just “history”–thanks to Jess and all of you.

    My sisters and I invite you to look at http://memorialwebsites.legacy.com/MaxRJensen/Homepage.aspx for some interesting “snapshots” of Max’s life and some of his other creations besides postcards. (Comments on that site are also welcome.)

    Thank you all, again, for your very kind words; we are truly touched and very appreciative.

    Diane McGovern

    P.S. Isn’t VintageSeattle.org great? It’s so much fun to see everyone’s pictures and read everyone’s comments and input regarding them. Thank you, Jess, and all the contributors.

  14. Can we get back on theme please. Everything seems to have gotten off the topic. Some of these comments are unbelievable.

  15. Don Bickley says:

    I thought I would comment, although this is an old post.

    I have a post card of the Lake Washington floating bridge. It’s an Ektachrome, by Max R. Jensen. The post mark is 1959. I enjoyed reading about “the man behind the camera”. May he rest in peace.

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