Seeing U.S. National Parks through Artists’ Eyes

August 25, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Museum guests can enjoy images of Yellowstone (the nation’s first national park) and Grand Canyon National Park by artists Thomas Moran and Lone Wolf (aka Hart M. Schultz) in our current exhibitions. “Lone Wolf (Hart M. Schultz): Cowboy, Actor and Artist” is on display through August 31, 2016. Artworks by Moran are on display in the museum’s ongoing exhibition “Courage and Crossroads: A Visual Journey through the Early American West.”

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Thomas Moran, The Castle Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin, 1876, chromolithograph; On loan from Zaplin Lampert Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. On view in Courage and Crossroads: A Visual Journey through the Early American West.

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, the Yellowstone region was a legendary place, the subject of fantastic tales mostly generated from early trappers’ reports describing its otherworldly features – cauldrons of boiling mud, strange colorful formations, and erratically erupting fountains. Its remoteness kept speculative discourse alive until 1870, when an expedition led by former Union Army General Henry Washburn, then surveyor of Montana, confirmed the region’s unusual geological attributes and gave the geyser, “Old Faithful,” its name.

The following year, the United States government sent a scientific expedition to study the region, under the direction of Ferdinand V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. Artist Thomas Moran was granted permission to accompany the expedition. Indeed, he was welcomed, as he would be able to provide color images. Hayden later acknowledged, “Even the most vivid description is utterly insufficient to give an accurate idea of it, unless accompanied by color illustrations.”

When Moran arrived at Yellowstone, he was riveted by the visual display that nature’s forces bestowed upon the region. He eagerly sketched while his eyes and mind worked with a determined focus to absorb the many details. Yet, he was also humbled, saying to Hayden there were features “beyond the reach of human art.” After returning to his studio in the East, Moran painted various scenes of Yellowstone that garnered much attention and critical acclaim. In 1872, his seven- by twelve-foot canvas, “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” was exhibited in New York City before being unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Soon, Congress appropriated money to purchase the painting and Moran was heralded as the artist of Yellowstone.

Moran’s artwork played a significant role in conveying the region’s geography to Congress who, at the time, sought to boost public awareness of, and expansion to, the American West. Ultimately, his renderings of Yellowstone influenced the government’s decision to mark the area as the first national park in the country.

Grand Canyon_Lone Wolf (Hart M. Schultz)

Lone Wolf (Hart M. Schultz, 1883-1970), Grand Canyon, 1919, oil on canvas; On loan from the Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Gift of the J.C. Kinney Family.

In the twentieth century, the national parks were captured by Lone Wolf (aka Hart M. Schultz), a Blackfeet Indian artist who studied with Moran. Schultz was one of the first American Indian artists to paint in an academic style and one of the most important Glacier National Park artists. His art contains an historical record of the expansion of the western American frontier as well as the artist’s unique experience as seen through his life and artistic vision.

Schultz’s 1919 artwork, “Grand Canyon,” hung in Jack C. Kinney’s La Osa Ranch office in the Santa Rita Hotel, Tucson. Kinney owned La Osa Ranch near Tucson, and was Schultz’s art patron. A writer for the Tucson Citizen who saw it remarked, “This has been acclaimed by some critics to be the truest characterization ever made of the varied colored canyon.”

In 1925, a writer exclaimed, “With the verve of a government mule, the Indian artist has achieved enviable artistic heights with his portrayal of Arizona’s Canyon. Though the picture is comparatively an old one, it has never been displayed in the big galleries, and one wishes that it might be immediately, feeling that for once nature’s greatest masterpiece has been worthily reproduced.”

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