Frank Xavier Gonner was a Luxembourg-American photographer from Durango, Colorado. During his 23-year long career, capturing images of people and places, he produced a priceless historical record of the Durango community.
Gonner was born on May 3, 1860, in Luxembourg. He immigrated to the United States in September 1880, settled in Durango in 1887, and received training as a photographer from Anson Corey and William Henry Roberts, photographers from Missouri.
Gonner and William L. Leeka, from Illinois, produced a series of photographs in 1890 to advertise the rebuilt city of Durango after the devastating fire of 1889. 32 photo cards of schools, homes, churches, new city blocks, and businesses were issued in a bound booklet. Gonner and Leeka produced a second series of 69 pictures in June 1891.
In November 1891 Gonner and an associate became owners of the Durango Art Gallery in the Colorado State Bank Building at the corner of 9th Street and Main Avenue. Sadly, another fire destroyed Gonner’s studio on June 15, 1893.
In 1901, the Durango Democrat newspaper produced a 62-page publication, “The Great San Juan, Durango, The Smelter City”. Gonner and two other photographers, Frank S. Balster and Michael Brumfield, contributed their photographs. That same year, a photographic project called the Democrat-Gonner Pioneer Gallery, was launched. Gonner’s 125 portraits were displayed at the Durango Democrat newspaper’s office, Gonner’s Studio, and the Pioneers of the San Juan’s Headquarters.
Gonner took photographs of the Ute Indians at Ignacio in 1904 and attended the St. Louis World’s Fair to view his displayed photographs. One such photograph is “Cavalry remnant of Meeker massacre”, taken in December 1903, and currently owned by the Library of Congress.
Active in the community, Gonner ran for Justice of the Peace in Animas City in 1897 and for Durango Alderman in 1904. He became the Elks’ Exalted Ruler in 1909. He was also a member of benevolent organizations, such as the Woodmen of the World.
*Ms. Kathy Gibson, researcher, family genealogist, and great-granddaughter of Frank Gonner has largely contributed to this text.