The Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational, November 6-12, 2017

By Lyman Hafen, Executive Director

For hundreds of years people have been trying to communicate what Zion Canyon means to them with symbols on rock, words on paper, and images on canvas.  The early explorers and scientists did a remarkable job of recording in prose the geology, flora, fauna, and human history of the area.  But even they never set out into canyon country without illustrators, photographers and fine artists in tow — to back up their words with amazing images.

As executive director of Zion Natural History Association, I am an eye-witness, almost daily, to someone’s first encounter with Zion Canyon.  I watch and listen as they stop in their tracks, look up, take a deep breath, and sigh something indecipherable as they exhale.  It seems that for most people confronted by Zion’s towers of stone for the first time, words fail them.  They stand transfixed and utter something like “Wow,” or “Awesome,” or “Unbelievable,” (often in a foreign language) and know that they have not come close to expressing what they feel.  At a loss for the right words, they default to the camera, as if the only way to define what they are experiencing is to digitize it for later reference.  As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

For those who possess the skill, it seems the creation of original works of art is the best way to communicate the beauty and majesty of Zion.

Frederick Dellenbaugh, who explored the area with John Wesley Powell in the early 1870’s, and returned to spend some serious time in Zion Canyon in the summer of 1903, was one of the few Zion chroniclers who could not only write, but was also an accomplished painter.  His work played an important role in opening the eyes of the country to the importance of setting Zion Canyon aside as a national park.  One might debate whether it was his words, published in the January, 1904, edition of Scribners Magazine, or his series of paintings that hung in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, that had the greatest impact.

No doubt it was a combination of both, but it’s certain that without the stunning color renderings created by Dellenbaugh and others, it would have been a long time before the people of the United States, as well as members of Congress, had their eyes opened to the true grandeur of Zion.

Today, we continue to celebrate the importance of original art in the history of Zion with the annual Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational. ZNHA’s fundraising arm, the Zion National Park Foundation, will stage the ninth annual event, November 6-12, 2017, by hosting 24 of the country’s finest landscape artists for a week of painting and teaching in the park. The artists will paint plein air (on location) throughout the week in many of the same locations that iconic artists such as Frederick Dellenbaugh and Thomas Moran painted when this landscape was first exposed to the American public. Park visitors during the week will have many unique opportunities to witness great artists at work in the canyon, as well as attend daily painting demonstrations and lectures.

Event proceeds go to the Zion National Park Foundation to support important projects in the park, including the successful Zion Youth Education Initiative, making it possible for children throughout the area to visit the park and have a potentially life-changing educational experience.

Art has a very firm place in the history of Zion Canyon and in the story that led to it becoming a National Park.  Today, artists, donors, sponsors and visitors continue that rich tradition, preserving the wonder that is Zion National Park for future generations, and enhancing the experience of everyone who comes here.

Painting by Gregory Stocks,  “Morning in the Canyon”  oil

#GivingTuesday – Charity Has a Day Too

This November 29th join the movement and give a donation.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season when many focus on holiday and end-of-year giving. This year please consider giving to the Zion National Park Foundation. You can choose to earmark your donation to support the Youth Education Initiative, the Trail Fund, Special Projects, or Search & Rescue and Emergency Medical Service Teams in Zion National Park.

Generous donations on #GivingTuesday will support Youth Education Initiative programs including:

  • Jr. Ranger – gives children visiting the park an opportunity to discover nature on a self-guided nature experience to complete an activity booklet, become a Junior Ranger and earn a Jr. Ranger badge.
  • Parks as Classrooms – brings local school children, many of which have never experienced nature or the wilderness, into the park for a meaningful connection to park resources .
  • Outreach – park rangers visit schools in surrounding communities and conduct curriculum-based programs for third, fourth, and fifth grade students.
  • Traveling Trunks – helps students in classrooms explore the ancient environments of Utah during the Mesozoic Era.
  • Concrete to Canyons – brings underprivileged, inner city kids to visit Zion National Park; some of them for the first time.

The future of our national parks is in the hands of today’s youth. Meaningful park experiences today lead to successful park stewards tomorrow. The Zion National Park Foundation hopes you will give generously on #GivingTuesday to ensure the future success of important educational programs in Zion National Park.

Generous donations on #GivingTuesday will support the Zion National Park Trail Fund.

The Zion National Park Trail Fund is currently receiving donations for the Emerald Pools Trail Rehabilitation Project.

In 2010, it rained for 8 consecutive days causing massive landslides on the Middle Emerald Pools Trail which has caused the trail to remain closed since that time due to concern for visitor safety. This project will fix and re-route sections of the trail in order to provide visitors greater access to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools along this historically significant trail. The project will fund the repairs for two sections of trail on the existing Middle Emerald Pools Trail as well as re-route approximately one mile of trail.

The Zion National Park Foundation hopes you will give generously on #GivingTuesday to ensure the Emerald Pools Trail is restored.

Generous donations on #GivingTuesday will support Special Projects in your national parks.

Zion National Park Foundation supports not only Zion, but Cedar Breaks National Monument and Pipe Spring National Monument. Each park has its own unique challenges and exclusive projects to fund. Special needs in each park are determined by the respective park superintendent.

Projects at Pipe Spring National Monument include studying and preserving landmarks including telegraph poles, Windsor Castle and other historic structures.

Cedar Breaks National Monument requires additional funding to expand and improve trails, facilities and destinations which are ADA-compliant.

In Zion, special projects have included such initiatives as the restoration of the historic Grotto Museum building which was the first visitor center in the park in the 1920’s. It is now used as housing for the Artist in Residence Program.

The Zion National Park Foundation hopes you will give generously on #GivingTuesday to ensure special projects receive needed funds.

Generous donations on #GivingTuesday to Search and Rescue will help support and maintain emergency services provided by Zion National Park Search and Rescue & Emergency Medical Service Teams.

Emergency Medical Service Teams respond to over 450 medical and physical injury incidents and over 90 significant Search and Rescue incidents each year. As a result of your support, Zion can continue to recruit and retain the highest quality medical and rescue personnel available in the National Park Service and provide the best service and high quality medical care to park visitors. Generous donations are also used to support advanced technical rope rescue training for the Zion Search and Rescue team.

The Zion National Park Foundation hopes you will give generously on #GivingTuesday to ensure the Search and Rescue program receives necessary funds to maintain high quality services – it could be a matter of life or death.

“Elementary, my dear Watson”

If Sherlock Holmes were an observer of the Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational, he might likely say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” But, if he could see the  essential part Miriam Watson plays behind the scenes of the annual event, he would likely retract the statement. We visited with her about her role as Museum Curator for the plein air event.

We asked Miriam to tell us a little about her connection to the  Plein Air Art Invitational as curator of the Zion Human History Museum.  “I serve on the committee which selects the artists, and individually I am responsible for installing the studio exhibit, and providing artists what they need for the wet paint sale and gala.”

That is no small feat when working with 24 individual artists. She is responsible for hanging the pre-event studio show in the museum and is helpful in transforming the auditorium into an art gallery as more than 150 paintings produced during the week are hung for a gala reception and sale to invited guests and subsequently opens to the public for two more days.

We also asked Miriam what she enjoys most about her role as curator in conjunction with the event.  Her quick cheerful response was, “I love working with the artists and getting to know them and seeing how their personalities play into their artwork.” A people person, Miriam has an exclusive opportunity to work closely with the artists and their work getting a unique view of them.

Finally, we asked how she feels her role helps make the event successful.  Her unpretentious answer, “I do a lot of behind the scenes work to keep the show going. “

It’s not so “elementary” Miriam Watson! Her behind the scenes work not only includes being a member of the selection committee, but she also assists in the call for artists, coordinates the hanging and labeling of the art for the show, handles the artist contracts, and is part of the overall scene the Park plays as host to the event. Different divisions of park employees have many other hosting roles including construction of venues, signage and coordinating volunteers.

Miriam says her favorite part of the event is the paint out on Saturday. “It is seeing all of the artists painting on the Zion Lodge lawn at the same time. I find it fascinating to see all of the artists’ different interpretations of the same landscape and watching visitors’ faces light up with inspiration.”

Sherlock may say it is elementary, but ZNHA gives a big shout-out to Miriam, and all the Zion NPS staff and volunteers, who contribute in so many vital ways to make the plein air event a success.