Show Preview | Zion Plein Air Invitational

Zion National Park, UT
Zion Human History Museum, November 7-13

Mary Jabens, Morning Storms, Kolob, oil, 20 x 24.

Mary Jabens, Morning Storms, Kolob, oil, 20 x 24.

This story was featured in the November 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  November 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

As the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary year draws to a close, the 24 painters participating in the Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational are still highlighting this park and others in their natural splendor. “I can look around 360 degrees and find something at every vantage point that pops out and inspires a painting,” says participating artist Rachel Pettit. “When I get out there, I just get an energy that I can’t explain. I go out there as early as I can and paint until the sun sets.”

Over the course of the event, November 7 through November 11, artists render Zion in some 150 works that are on sale to the public November 12-13. An invitation-only reception opens the sale on Friday, November 11, at 7 p.m. Patrons and collectors interested in receiving an invitation may contact the Zion National Park Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising partner of the park that organizes the event and receives a share of the proceeds.

Although the plein-air paintings may be sold, they remain on view through Thanksgiving weekend, as does a separate exhibition of studio works. The artists are invited to submit two studio pieces, many of which also depict Zion, in advance of the invitational. This year, the artists were asked to share a painting of another national park to mark the centennial. These paintings have been on view since September.

The artists cache an impressive number of paintings throughout the week, but they also set aside time to interact with the public. Each day, four to six artists are scheduled to give painting demonstrations, and of course, the artists chat with passersby while they paint—a quality the committee considers when extending invitations. “We look for artists who will connect with visitors,” says Lyman Hafen, executive director of the Zion National Park Foundation. This year’s participants include returning artists Cody DeLong, George Handrahan, and Bruce Gomez, as well as first timers such as Mike Simpson, Mary Jabens, and Patricia McGeeney.

“The plein-air event is an ideal way for us to project our mission,” Hafen says. “We’re in the business of educating, inspiring, and connecting people to the park. There’s no better way to educate than through art, going back to Thomas Moran and Maynard Dixon and up to the present with artists like Roland Lee, who is one of the signature artists of the canyon now.”

Lee, who lives on the park’s east rim, has painted the canyon for 35 years and has participated in the invitational each of its eight years. “Zion is kind of a sacred place for me,” he says. “I can always find peace and serenity here. I’m so moved by it, and I’m grateful I have the artistic talent to express it to others.”

Bill Cramer has also taken part for eight years. He says he got his start in plein-air painting in Zion. “Zion has everything you’d want as a painter: rock walls, the Virgin River, intimate side canyons. It’s a pretty amazing place.” He’s bringing two studio pieces of the park, one of Mt. Kinesava in morning light; the other captures an intimate scene along the Virgin River. “I could paint in that area all day long,” he says. The Arizona painter confesses that during the sometimes-chilly fall weather, he stashes a gas heater under his easel to stay warm while painting—anything to capture the park’s natural beauty in perfect light. —Ashley M. Biggers

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This story was featured in the November 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  November 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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