Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks

Ranch Shipley Kimball, Entrance to Zion’s, 1934, oil on canvas mounted. Springville Museum of Art.

The National Parks are an integral part of America’s identity. The arches of Moab and the red rocks of St. George make the state of Utah, home to five national parks, a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The National Parks’ unique role in the nation’s history is celebrated this year for the National Park Service 2016 Centennial Celebration. Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art (MOA) in Provo is joining the centennial celebration with a featured exhibit entitled Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks.The exhibit is divided into four sections: Brushes with Destiny, Tourism in the Parks, Changing Natures and Lure of the Landscape.

Ashlee Whitaker is the MOA curator for Capturing the Canyons. Whitaker said the exhibit, which has been in the works for almost three years, was all about celebrating the National Parks in a fun and engaging way.

“As we began collecting pieces for the exhibit, a story emerged,” Whitaker said. “From the beginning, these parks were an artistic challenge that inspired and resonated with artists. They were continual places of retreat.”

The exhibit includes an 1873 sketchbook from Thomas Moran, who was the first artist to depict Yellowstone. The sketchbook is a collection of Moran’s sketches of Southern Utah.

“The earliest artists that depicted the parks were part of a larger movement to discover what was out west,” Whitaker said. “They were pioneers who took risks to get their sketches.”

Another highlight of the exhibit is the various posters and advertisements created by artists to bring tourism to the parks. All of the exhibit pieces were loaned from state collections, the National Parks art collections and several private collections.

“This exhibit is artistically rich and diverse, and it’s all about engagement and enlightenment,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker noted that artists’ efforts played a large role in the conservation and preservation movement that led to the creation of the National Parks Service in 1916.

“The modern paintings and photographs in the exhibit show that artists can’t get enough of the parks,” Whitaker said.

Anton J. Rasmussen, Bryce Canyon (Diptych), 1983, oil on canvas mounted, Salt Lake City Department of Airports.
Anton J. Rasmussen, Bryce Canyon (Diptych), 1983, oil on canvas mounted, Salt Lake City Department of Airports.

Capturing the Canyons boasts several Ansel Adams photographs of Yosemite’s famous Half Dome.

“Adams said that no matter how many times he photographed Half Dome, he always found something different,” Whitaker said.

The MOA is joining the National Parks Service Centennial Celebration by including #findyourpark photo ops throughout the exhibit. Museum patrons can take pictures in front of their favorite piece and post it to Instagram with #findyourpark.

On June 3, the exhibit will be part of a Family Arts Festival from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

On June 24, the MOA will host a free Art After Dark event from 7:00-10:00 p.m with food, music and prizes.

Capturing the Canyons is open until August 20th. Admission to the Museum of Art is free. For more information on museum hours and special events, visit

Salt Lake Magazine
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