PROVO — To honor the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art is featuring an exhibit called “Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks,” which shows various artists’ pictures of national parks throughout history.
“It’s a neat variety of media as well as styles and stories,” said Ashlee Whitaker, head curator of the museum. “The parks in the West were some of the earliest that were ever created. There’s countless fantastic works of art that show parks in the West and in America.”
While researching the background of the artworks, Whitaker said, she discovered the artists’ depictions of the national parks were crucial to discovering and preserving the parks. They played a key role in helping the government know the parks existed and in helping the parks be established as protected areas. Oftentimes, artists would risk their lives to capture the scenery.
“These artists were some (of the first to) see these landscapes and to depict them and share their images with the American public,” Whitaker said. “As years passed, artists also played an integral role in (the) official marketing and promotional element of these parks.”
Paintings, photos, sketchbooks and stories are featured in the exhibit, some dating back to the 1870s. Whitaker decided to have the exhibit focus on the stories behind the art to give viewers a deeper connection to the art and the national parks.
“It became a more full story about these artists than I had ever anticipated,” Whitaker said. “What gets me excited is the range of stories and fun stuff that people can find as they read a little bit about the works of art or just wander through it.”
“Capturing the Canyons” features depictions of national parks outside Utah, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, as well as Utah’s five national parks: Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon.
“We want families to come and really have some fun here,” Whitaker said. “There is something for everyone, and one of the fantastic things about landscape is that it’s very approachable as a subject. Not all art often feels accessible to some viewers, but there’s something about landscape that in a sense we can all relate to, and I think that’s a great access point for people who are interested in coming.”
The museum focused on making the exhibit family friendly. Whitaker said museum workers developed tours for Boy Scouts to help them earn merit badges in geography, landscaping or American history. In addition, the exhibit’s design allows children of all ages to be entertained.
“We have a lot of these options that families and community groups could take advantage of,” Whitaker said. “If a family just wants to walk in, there’s a lot of fun stories and things that come out with the works of art, and lots of conversation points for children of all ages.”
The featured artwork comes from private and public collections throughout the West; many national parks loaned works to the museum from their archives, as well as some of the old digital pictures that can be accessed on iPads in the museum.
If you go …
What: “Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks”
When: Through Aug. 20; museum hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Saturdays, and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday
Where: Brigham Young University Museum of Art, North Campus Drive, Provo
How much: Free