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.
During the summer of 1903, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh visited Zion Canyon and completed a series of paintings. He also completed an article about Zion that appeared in the popular Scribner's Magazine. Through these mediums, Dellenbaugh transported this unknown canyon into the homes of 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. One of Dellenbaugh's early pieces is held in the museum collection of Zion 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 still inspires artists to create masterpieces. Local artists and art galleries often feature park themed artwork. The Zion Human History Museum also occasionally features art exhibits.
Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitation
Celebrating the role art has had in the history of Zion Canyon, the Zion Forever Project hosts an annual Plein Air Art Invitational in November. The event features some of the country's finest landscape artists to paint in the places that have inspired art for more than a century. The artists will paint en plein air (in the open air) throughout the week. Park visitors that week will have many unique opportunities to witness these great artists at work in the park through daily demonstrations, lectures and activities. For more information, visit www.zionpark.org.
Treasured Landscapes: NPS Art Collections
Paintings, watercolors, sketches, and other works on paper from over 50 National Park Service museum collections.
Last updated: January 7, 2022