By Lyman Hafen, Executive Director
Every day multitudes of people see Zion National Park for the first time. Their heads tilt reverently back and their gleaming eyes trace the towers of Kayenta and Navajo sandstone from the Virgin River’s edge up and up through the sedimentary ages to where the red and white pinnacles finally break against the purple sky like the spires and turrets of otherworldly castles.
But they say you can only see it for the first time, once.
That is just one reason why the Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational event is so important. During the first full week of November each year, 24 artists spend five days painting in the park, translating onto canvas and paper the wonder, the mystery, and the indescribable beauty of the canyon. Their work preserves their most intimate impressions of Zion Canyon and allows us to experience again and again the joy of seeing it for the first time.
Over the past 130 years, gifted artists, from Thomas Moran to Frederick Dellenbaugh, Maynard Dixon, and Jimmie Jones, have opened our eyes to the massive grandeur and intimate beauty of Zion. Today, great artists continue to capture the essence of Zion in ways that allow us to see it all anew.
Maynard Dixon once said his mind was “set to tell the truth of it” on paper and on canvas. The truth of Zion Canyon is revealed to anyone who raises his eyes to its pinnacles, and though it may be true that you can see it for the first time only once, the superb art generated in Zion’s annual plein air event allows us to view a stirring variety of interpretations of Zion over and over. Through the transforming power of art, our souls are sparked and our hearts renewed with the wonder we felt that first time.
Twenty-four invited artists will paint in Zion Canyon during the week of November 7-13, 2016, celebrating the role art played in the creation of the park. This year’s eighth annual event is being billed as the “Centennial Edition,” celebrating the influence of original art in the founding of the National Park Service one hundred years ago.
Among this year’s selected artists are long-standing favorites, a few who have been away for a while, as well as six brand new artists to the event. There are 16 oil painters, three watercolor artists, two who work in acrylic, and three pastel artists. This year’s featured artist, selected as last year’s Foundation Award Winner, is John Cogan of Farmington, New Mexico. Cogan’s new painting, “Waters of Evening” is featured in this year’s advertising and promotional materials.
As part of this year’s “Centennial Edition” of Plein Air, each artist is invited to submit one studio painting of a national park other than Zion. Those paintings, along with one other studio painting by each artist, will hang in the Zion Human History Museum beginning September 14 through the end of the Plein Air Week in November. The studio paintings are on sale as soon as they are hung. The plein air paintings produced during Plein Air Week will go on sale Friday evening, November 11, at an invitation only preview event for art buyers. Then, beginning Saturday morning at 9 am, the show opens to the public and remains open, 9 am to 5 pm through November 28, 2016.
Keeping with tradition, each artist will give a free one-hour painting demonstration during the week, on the patio of the Zion Human History Museum. Visitors may also interact with artists throughout the week as they paint at various locations in the canyon.
Saturday of Plein Air Week has become one of the most fascinating days of the year in the park as all 24 artists participate in a “Paint Out” and sale held up-canyon on the lawn of the Zion Lodge. Between 11 am and 2 pm, visitors can watch each of the artists paint in fairly close proximity and if their heart settles on a particular painting, they can put their name on it and claim it for purchase, even before it’s completed. In the meantime, a silent auction of the paintings produced for the demonstrations during the week will be ongoing in the Lodge Auditorium. When the bell rings, each painting goes to the highest bidder on the bid sheet.
This year’s Centennial Edition of Plein Air will also feature a special slate of free lectures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, as well as a Friday morning presentation by Zion Canyon Field Institute Director Michael Plyler on the role of art in the creation of the National Parks.
If you can only spend a few days, or even one day, in Zion National Park this year, make plans for that visit in early November when the air is inspiringly crisp, the leaves are golden, and the artists are at work. And see the canyon for the “first time,” again.