It’s not an exaggeration to claim that photographers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb helped turn the Grand Canyon into a national icon. They were responsible for building Kolb Studio, one of the earliest tourist destinations on the South Rim. These two made their way west to the Grand Canyon in search of a new lifestyle more exciting than the steel mills of western Pennsylvania.
In 1901, Ellsworth Kolb came to the Grand Canyon. He found the canyon so captivating, that he begged his younger brother Emery to come join him out west. Emery arrived a year later. From here, the brothers started their photography business for tourists on the South Rim.
The brothers began to take photographs of the mule riders from the small toll shack on the Bright Angel Trail. The toll shack would later become a five story photo studio built right on the edge of the canyon! The studio was used to document the trips of visitors and create imagery of the Grand Canyon for the next 75 years.
The Kolb brothers did a lot of exploring in the Grand Canyon; but their adventures didn’t stop at still photography. In 1911, the brothers decided to venture down the Colorado River from start to finish. What made their trip special was the 50lb hand crank motion picture camera.
The footage from their wild ride was turned into the historic film-”Shooting the Rapids of the Colorado River Canyons”. From downstairs in the auditorium of Kolb Studio, this film was shown every day until 1976 when Emery Kolb passed away.
Today, the film is no longer played however, visitors can still enjoy Kolb Studio by touring the gallery that now resides inside the auditorium room. The gallery continues to honor the Kolb Legacy by contributing to the cultural benefit of the community and canyon visitors for years to come!
Photographers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb helped turn the Grand Canyon into a national icon. They built Kolb Studio, one of the earliest tourist destinations on the South Rim. The brothers began to take photographs of the mule riders from a small toll shack on the Bright Angel Trail. The toll shack would later become today's five story home, theater and photo studio built right on the edge of the canyon! The studio was used to document the trips of visitors and create imagery of Grand Canyon for 75 years.
Kolb Studio Exhibits
The Amazing Kolb Brothers:
A Grand Life at Grand Canyon
Presented by Grand Canyon Conservancy, Cline Library, and Grand Canyon National Park. Additional funding provided by the Babbitt Foundation, Pink Jeep Tours, The cities of Las Vegas, NV, and Sedona, AZ, and Ms. Penny Schultz.
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More About Kolb Studio
A home, business, tollgate, and photography studio, this historic building has been rebuilt and reimagined many times in its tenure on the rim of Grand Canyon. From humble beginnings, Kolb Studio grew and changed with the family who called it home to become the multi-storied structure you see today.
Nearly demolished in the 1960s, this structure stands today as a park icon, art gallery, and bookstore for visitors in the vicinity of Bright Angel Trail.
In 1901, Ellsworth Kolb arrived at the rim of Grand Canyon by train. By October 1902, he had persuaded his brother Emery to join him. A year later, the brothers established their photography business near Bright Angel Trailhead after receiving permission from Ralph Cameron, who at the time owned Bright Angel Trail. They camped out in a small tent on the canyon rim before building a small wooden house in 1906, which they called Kolb Studio.
Over the next 12 years, the Kolb brothers established themselves as both photographers and adventurers. From capturing unorthodox photos of hard-to-reach areas of the canyon to documenting their 101 days running the Colorado River on film with a motion-picture camera, Ellsworth and Emery revealed images that few had dreamed of. Selling their images in leather-bound books for three dollars each and touring the country to present their film lecture series, the Kolb brothers made a name for themselves and opened the eyes of a nation to this wonder of the world.
For decades, the Kolb brothers continued to make a living out of Kolb Studio on Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Later in life, when their contractual agreements with the park ended, the National Park Service actually wanted to demolish this studio in the 1960s. The architecture wasn't quite in line with the style and theme of other buildings in the park. After several years of quibbling between Emery and the agency, the structure was saved when Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, legislation that effectively protected park structures over 50 years old from being destroyed.
Hosted each year by Grand Canyon Conservancy, the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art is an annual event that includes 6 days of art related events followed by a 3 month long exhibition in Kolb Studio on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The 2022 events will take place September 10, 2022, through January 16, 2023
Every September, park visitors and residents have an opportunity to watch artists paint Grand Canyon as they seek to represent the shifting light and shadow, amazing land forms, and vibrant colors of this vast landscape.
Each artist brings a completed studio piece with them and then spends a number of days creating more artwork on the South Rim, on the North Rim, at Phantom Ranch and at Indian Garden during the Plein Air at the Canyon Event.
At the end of the week, on Saturday, the Quick Draw Event takes place in the historic district of Grand Canyon Village. During the auction that immediately follows the Quick Draw event, park residents and visitors have the opportunity to bid on the paintings that they watched being created that morning, and to bring a piece of Grand Canyon home.
Proceeds from this event support the goal of funding an art venue at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This permanent home will ensure that future generations of park visitors will be able to view the stunning art collection in the Grand Canyon National Park Museum and Grand Canyon Conservancy Collections.
Every September, a group of artists gather at Grand Canyon National Park for the Celebration of Art presented by Grand Canyon Association. Proceeds from the event go towards establishing a permanent art venue at Grand Canyon. Visitors may watch and learn from the Plein Air painters. (Video clip from "Grand Canyon a Journey of Wonder.")