On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that would create the National Park Service, making 2016 their centennial year. Artists have captured the majesty of the places that became the parks often long before those spaces were designated as national treasures. Throughout history, the brushstrokes of their paintings and the developed chemistry of their photographs have been instrumental in introducing Americans to the dramatic vistas of the nation they call home. Their romantic representations of nature’s wonder often omit traces of the tourists who arrived by the Transcontinental Railroad, stagecoach, car, or bus.
The desert landscape of Big Bend National Park in Texas is home to 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. Our museum's founder, Amon Carter, was partially responsible for making the park a reality.
Laura Gilpin once wrote of her photographic adventures to places such as Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah, “I . . . am willing to drive many miles, expose a lot of film, wait untold hours, camp out to be somewhere at sunrise, make many return trips to get what I am after."
She hiked, drove, and flew thousands of miles across the Southwest to capture its majesty.
Canyonlands National Park is located in southeastern Utah. President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating the park in 1964. Naturalist photographer Eliot Porter captured its buttes, canyons, and mesas in all their vivid color, as a proponent of the artistic merits of color photography.
Cowboy artist Charles Russell built a summer cabin on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in Montana for himself in 1905. He named it Bull Head Lodge after his signature that features a bull skull. He played host to many visiting artists who made the scenery of the park the subject of their work.
One of the most beloved parks in the United States, the Grand Canyon has fascinated photographers from photography's earliest days. If tourists could not travel there...they could experience it in 3D in their living rooms through stereographs!
For Gilpin, the southwestern landscape was more than just topography, it was an inhabited place full of history and tradition.
She made her first trip to Mesa Verde, Colorado in 1924, highlighting the ruined cliff dwellings of the area’s earliest residents.
Gilpin published a book of her photographs in 1927, The Mesa Verde National Park: Reproductions from a Series of Photographs by Laura Gilpin along with a companion book of photos of Pikes Peak, also in Colorado. Both highlighted her vision of the Southwest as infused with a particular spirit.
People have been visiting the area of Rocky Mountain National Park for at least 11,000 years.
The Colorado winters provide ample opportunities for snow and ice sports...
...including ice driving!
In 1871, artist Thomas Moran was invited by Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, to join his expedition team into the unexplored Yellowstone region.
During forty days of journeying, Moran wrote about and sketched more than thirty different sites. His artworks, along with photographs produced by survey photographer William Henry Jackson, encouraged Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park in 1872.
Yellowstone had a significant influence on Moran. His first national recognition, as well as his first major financial success, came from his depictions of Yellowstone, encouraging him to sign some of his work “T-Y-M,” which stood for Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran.
These chromolithographs were color prints created to distribute his work to a larger public.
In 1855, a small group of entrepreneurs accompanied by artist Thomas Ayres were among the first tourists to visit Yosemite. The paintings, drawings, articles in illustrated periodicals, and lithographic prints Ayres created after his trip served to promote tourism to the area. His works were distributed nationally, and art exhibitions of his drawings provided the public with some of the first artistic representations of Yosemite’s natural wonders.
Carleton Watkins ventured west in 1849 to try his luck as a gold prospector. Instead, he found success as a photographer, making his first trip to photograph Yosemite in 1861.
Despite the challenges of carrying his heavy sixteen-by-twenty-one-inch view camera, glass plates, and processing equipment into the wilderness by mule, he created stunning, large-scale photographs that set the standard for his contemporaries and helped push photography into the realm of fine art.
His work also encouraged President Lincoln to pass the Yosemite Grant in 1864. This legislation marked the first time that the federal government set aside land for preservation and public use. The following year, a mountain in the park was named in honor of Watkins.
Watkins’s photographs captured painter Albert Bierstadt’s attention and inspired his travels to California. “We are now in the Garden of Eden. . .” Bierstadt wrote of Yosemite, “the most magnificent place I was ever in.”
Time and again, Bierstadt painted dramatic, monumental canvases of Yosemite’s vast valleys and towering crags, and his paintings and popular lithographs were enthusiastically received by a wide audience. In response to his rendering of the brilliant, golden light of the valley floor, one critic remarked, “It looks as if it was painted in an Eldorado, in a distant land of gold; heard of in song and story; dreamed of but never seen. Yet it is real.”
That concludes our virtual tour of the majestic landscape of the United States. Of course, nothing compares to the real thing--so come visit the original art here at the Amon Carter or visit a National Park near you!