We took a drive yesterday from our home in Fort Collins, Colorado, to Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the scenery. It was perfect timing to enjoy the fall color in the mountains from 8,000 to 10,000 feet elevation, a beautiful sunny day with mild temperatures. Blue, our Australian Cattle Dog, came along to enjoy the smells of a new place as only a dog can.
These days it is usual to see people with cameras photographing everything in a park. We passed many people with their phones out to take scenery or wildlife photos or selfies with the stunning scenery in background. And of course, some had bigger single lens reflex cameras with telephoto lenses mounted on tripods for professional quality shots.
As we drove past Sheep Meadow, we saw no sheep, but perched on a rocky outcrop, a group of three older women clustered around their easels, each painting her individual impressions of the views. Below, an artist was standing waist deep in the grasses with an umbrella providing shade as he created a painting of the magnificent valley, striped with yellow aspens, that leads up to Trail Ridge Road.
We drove up to Hidden Valley and stopped to enjoy a picnic lunch surrounded by golden and red-orange clumps of aspens with shimmering, almost iridescent leaves. Another artist just fifty feet from us captured the vivid scenery on canvas. Every few minutes someone would stroll up behind her to get a look at her work and take a photo of her in the foreground and her object of art in background.
We turned south into Bear Valley and then back west in a stream valley noted for elk being easily seen. We immediately saw an artist working on an interesting painting of the trunk of a fallen tree in the foreground with Long’s Peak in the background.
Artists in national parks are not new, but seeing so many artists out in one day surprised me in a good way. Before there were parks in the United States, artists like Catlin, Remington and Russell created works of art that have becoming enduring images of the time and place before the changes brought first by settlers and later by tourists. Their works of art are part of our understanding of the culture of the times. Ansel Adams took black and white photos in Yosemite and other parks that show how photography can leap beyond being a recollection into being memorable art.
Despite the beauty, accuracy and immediacy of photographs, we still value the singular interpretations of beauty that artists, photographers, musicians and writers provide. National parks have been leaders in artist-in-residence programs that allow longer stays in unique settings to inspire their work. Forty national parks of the four hundred in the NPS system now have these programs. While working on their own art, they also teach classes in some of the most inspiring places in the nation.
Nature centers, zoos, aquariums, museums, historic sites and heritage communities also have such programs. They sometimes include classes to help novice artists or photographers improve their craft. If you have not facilitated art at your site or community, think about the opportunity to stimulate people of all ages to find their own niche in personal art in the outdoors or a unique science, museum, aquarium or historic setting.
As I look around our home, often called a museum of sorts by our friends, I realize that most of our displayed works of art are handmade paintings, wood carvings, and crafts, not photographs taken by us or others. I am an avid photographer, but inspiration comes in many forms. Think about how you might create opportunities for inspiration where you work. And don’t forget to get out somewhere and enjoy the fall color change.
– Tim Merriman