The BYU Museum of Art has launched a new exhibit commemorating the centennial anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.
The exhibition, titled “Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks,” contains around 90 pieces of artwork highlighting western National Parks and the artists who have captured their beauty.
Curator Ashlee Whitaker spent three years preparing the exhibition through research and careful selection of compelling pieces of art. She felt it was important to convey the dynamic relationship between the parks and the artists who helped to popularize them.
“There’s an interaction between the artists and these park landscapes that goes deep in terms of how America and the world perceives these parks,” Whitaker said. “I didn’t realize three years ago just how big a role artists played in terms of promoting the parks.”
Whitaker explained that 150 years ago, when the West was still largely a frontier, paintings were the medium by which artists reported on the beauty they found on their expeditions. Federal money was eventually allocated toward the protection of these landscapes as national parks, and artists were commissioned by the government and the railroad industry to draw crowds to the parks through their artwork.
“Visual imagery has played a huge role in America’s love and relationship with the national parks,” Whitaker said. “These landscapes feed artistic creativity, and it’s that relationship that I really wanted to explore with this exhibit.”
Although paintings are the predominant medium displayed in “Capturing the Canyons,” Museum of Art educator Lynda Palma noted that the exhibition represents prints, photographs, and book illustrations, as well.
“Each work reveals a different interpretation of the landscape based on the unique perspective of the beholder,” Palma said. “The surveyor is concerned with chronicling elevations and distinctive physical features; the geologist reads the earth’s history in its rock formations; the environmentalist photographs the changes wrought by both man and nature; and the artist attempts to render God’s art with the sublime majesty of its original creation.”
Emily Cameron, a student at American Fork High School who visited the exhibition for a school field trip, was impressed with the various interpretations of the same landscape at Arches National Park.
“This one’s a little more abstract,” she said of a Tracy Felix painting of the Delicate Arch. “It’s cool that you can see the differences between different artists, even when they paint the same subject with the same materials.”
The BYU Museum of Art will hold its annual Family Arts Festival on June 3 in conjunction with the “Capturing the Canyons” exhibition. Families and children are invited to participate in a day of arts, crafts, activities and education about the national parks.