WHEN WORDS AREN’T ENOUGH

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

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