James Lord Brice, the British Ambassador to the United States in 1912
got it right when he said (and was quoted by Ken Burns) “Your National
Parks are the best idea America ever had.”
Five minutes after I entered Zion National Friday my optic nerves
nearly fried as a sleet squall opened like a curtain, revealing a
sun-drenched landscape of red and white rock and amber leaves. A look
north indicated the world was about to end (badly), but a glance south
at blue sky and cotton-candy clouds offered hope that maybe mankind
won't cock it all up.
This weekend's stormy weather may seem ominous to ravellers and mark
the end of the southern Utah's tourist season, but those shifting
clouds and shafts of sunlight are producing mind-blowing vistas for
the artists who have flocked to Zion for the annual Plein Air
Invitational that ends this weekend.
This year's theme is "In the Footsteps of Thomas Moran." Moran was one
of the leading painters of western landscapes in the early 20th
Century and his paintings and illustrations started the momentum to
set aside land as national parks. You might say Moran was one of the
god parents of ecotourism--and the idea that besides the spiritual
value of American wildlands, it also could generate sustainable
income-- if we keep it pristine. Ha, ha. Crazy ol' Moran.
I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of most landscape art, even plein
air, which involves painting nature live while standing, Iron
Artist-like, in sleet and rain. Capturing Zion's beauty in two dimensions seems like an exercise in futility. But after seeing the work exhibited—some with the paint still damp—I can see the a sensitive artist can capture the awe that the landscape invokes.
The invitational it includes daily demonstrations, a "quick draw" and
auction Saturday, and the sale Monday of the artwork produced this
week. Plein Air (pronounced plain air) is a painting from nature while
standing in the middle of nature. The paint will still be damp when
the art is sold. Salt Lake Magazine is going to award an award, "Best