The Art of Zion National Park
Dramatic landscapes have inspired great art around the world. The unique and awe-inspiring scenery of America’s National Parks is no exception. In fact, national parks and great artists have always had a special relationship.
Artists struggled to faithfully record unbelievable vistas and natural wonders. Their paintings in turn brought notice to these remarkable areas and inspired others to consider protecting them for generations to come. From the earliest days of Westward Expansion, artists joined explorers and scientists to document the “unknown” lands. Most American’s first notion that such places existed was from seeing a painting, either in person or reproduced in a magazine.
The towering cliffs of Zion Canyon were so remote and inaccessible, that the nation was not introduced to this landscape until the turn of the twentieth century. One of the first paintings of Zion was by a veteran of John Wesley Powell’s second expedition of the Colorado River, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh.
This early piece is held in the museum collection of Zion National Park. During the summer of 1903, Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh visited Zion Canyon and completed a series of paintings. He also completed an article about Zion that appeared in a popular magazine. Through these mediums, Dellenbaugh transported this unknown canyon to visitors to the St. Louis World Fair and into the homes of Scribner’s Magazine readers over 100 years ago. Dellenbaugh’s images and words: “this great temple, of eternity,” raised awareness about this majestic canyon and influenced some to petition for its protection as a national park.
After the park was established, art pulled visitors to the canyon so that they might see its beauty first-hand. In 1926, the Union Pacific Railroad commissioned artist Howard Russell Butler to complete a series of landscapes to promote the scenic marvels of the Colorado Plateau. Butler’s wall-size paintings of Zion engulf the viewer and showcase the immense sandstone cliffs and narrow canyon walls. These paintings traveled the country and are now a part of the museum collection at Zion National Park. The Butler paintings represent the early period of the National Park Service promoting visitation of these new areas and developing better transportation to these parks in Utah.
Today Zion National Park is encouraging artists to continue to create masterpieces. Zion National Park and Zion Natural History Association recruit artists from the local community to produce, exhibit, and sell their art in the Zion Human History Museum. A variety of artists using a variety of mediums will rotate their work through the space throughout the season.
Zion National Park, in partnership with Zion Natural History Association, the St. George Art Museum, and the St. George Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, is hosting an art competition in honor of the park’s 100th anniversary in 2009. Contemporary pieces are exhibited alongside historic paintings and illustrations to produce the most comprehensive exhibit of Zion National Park ever mounted. The exhibit will run at the
Finally, Zion National Park, in partnership with Zion Natural History Association, will be hosting their first artist in residence during the fall of 2008. With the Artist in Residence Program, Zion National Park hopes to continue to build upon the portfolio of great works portraying nature’s great masterpiece. Each generation has their own way of seeing, and each individual artist re-interprets the Zion landscape in their own unique way. Obtaining pieces from contemporary artists will allow Zion to preserve the way this park is seen through the lens of today and possibly inspire future generations.
Return to the Museum Collections of Zion National Park main page
Did You Know?
The Zion National Park Shuttle System, which debuted in 2000, has restored tranquility to Zion Canyon. More...