Editor’s Letter | Painting the Parks

By Kristin Hoerth

Many people take business trips to convention centers in large cities. I, on the other hand, am fortunate to take business trips to places like the Grand Canyon. Some of my family members and friends hear this and doubt that I’m “really working” on these trips, but I assure them that I am—getting to know artists and their work, meeting collectors and other art lovers, and generally supporting the art market. I just get to do all of these things in the midst of breathtaking scenery.

That’s exactly what happened in September when I attended the first annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, held at the historic Kolb Studio on the Canyon’s South Rim. The event had two parts: the Modern Masters Invitational, a juried show of canyon paintings by 20 hand-picked artists; and Plein Air on the Rim, a show of just-completed paintings by 20 artists who had spent the previous week on location in the area. It’s hard to imagine a better place for landscape painting than in one of the country’s most spectacular national parks.

That same idea is behind the Plein-Air Painters of America’s current exhibition. American Legacy: Our National Parks is on view at the Haggin Museum in Stockton, CA, through January 10. It comprises more than 100 paintings by 35 PAPA members and guests documenting 35 different National Park Service units, from Ken Auster’s paintings of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco to Don Demers’ works depicting Acadia National Park in Maine.

Both of these shows happen to coincide with the release of the major new Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and the companion book by the same title. The six-part series is the story of what was once a unique and radical idea: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. It celebrates the beauty of the parks as well as the vision and foresight of the people who made sure that these lands would be preserved.

Of course, artists like Thomas Moran (above right) played an essential role in the creation of the country’s first national parks. Today’s artists continue to make an indispensable contribution to the story of America. Thank goodness we have these parks. Thank goodness we have art and artists to honor them. -November 2009