I only planned to stop in Zion for a few days, just long enough to say a quick “hello” to my friends and revisit a few of my favorite places. I came with my usual “list:” Ride my bike to the end of the road, stopping for soft serve ice cream at Zion Lodge. See a couple of movies. Spend time with my favorite cottonwoods along the Virgin River as they turn from green to gold. And hike at least one trail I’ve never hiked before. But once I arrived, so did Indian Summer. The November weather was nothing short of perfect, with warm sunny days and highs in the 70’s, and brisk clear star-filled nights with a “super moon” on the way. How could I possibly leave?
Another treat awaited me. The Plein Air Invitational was underway, this one the “Centennial Edition” in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. For those followers who might not be aware, “plein air” is a French expression that means “in the open air,” whereby the artist paints outdoors, capturing the natural light of the environment. Every year during the first full week of November, Zion National Park hosts this event, inviting 24 landscape artists to participate.
During the week, there are daily demonstrations to watch the artists paint as they give a narrative of their process. There are evening lectures about “Art in the Parks.” And the event concludes with a “paint-out” during which time all the artists paint on the giant lawn in front of Zion Lodge. The fruits of their labor are then sold in a silent auction. To quote the Zion NP website, “Event proceeds go to the Zion National Park Foundation to support important projects in the park including the successful Zion Youth Education Initiative which creates opportunities to bring school children into the park and have a potentially life-changing educational experience.” One such program is “Concrete to Canyons,” whereby intercity kids from Las Vegas are brought to the park for a three day wilderness experience, often times their first experience in a National Park.
These 24 artists paint over 300 paintings to be sold to benefit the parks educational programs. This means not only will they be painting during the organized demos, but if your timing is good, you will also encounter them out “in the wild,” painting whatever scene inspires them. And what’s not to inspire? I once said about Hawaii, “If you can’t fall in love while visiting Hawaii, you must be dead.” I will make a similar claim about Zion. “If you can’t be inspired while visiting Zion, you must be dead.”
I had the good fortune to make one of these encounters one late afternoon while riding my bike up the canyon road. At the end of the road at the Temple of Sinawava, I met pastel artist Arlene Braithwaite, standing there all alone looking quite “dwarfed” by the imposing walls on all sides of her. Everyone is dwarfed in this canyon of red rock skyscrapers, but Arlene even more so. She is not much bigger than the easel on which she paints. I didn’t realize at the time that she was one of “THE” 24 artists, so I struck up a conversation.
I remarked how impressive her box of pastels was, spread out on the ground before her. We laughed about our childhood memories of the thrill of getting a new box of Crayolas, all lined up in perfect gradient order. I can still remember the smell of the paraffin, and how in my OCD fashion, I vowed to keep them all aligned in the right order. We talked about the inspiring scenes on all sides of us, when Arlene said something that stuck with me. “The thing I love about being an artist is that it teaches you to SEE!”
This was a bit of an epiphany for me. From that point on as the week progressed and I attended more and more demos, I began to see edges and angles of light rather than ledges and cracks of stone. Instead of brown, I saw deep purples. Red rocks were now “florescent orange” and “quinacridone coral.” I have long been a fan and collector of watercolors, but “pastels” were new to me. I found it fascinating how up close, the painting can look like nothing more than “abstract chalk marks” but from a distance, it’s a compelling landscape.
I began to develop a passion for pigment…
I’ll never be an artist. I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. Believe me, I’ve tried. But at least for a week, I was able to see a little of what they see…
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~Edgar Degas
I’ve been to Zion twice, but you always are able to make me see places I have been in a way that had escaped me in person. That is as wonderful as the most talented of the artists you feature here. You are a fabulous artist in your own right!
I never tire of seeing your photos – always a tremendous treat.
wow!! thank you..
Suzanne, thank you for making me aware of this fabulous event at Zion! The artwork is stunning as are your photographs! Safe travels!!
Even tho you wrote “Crayola” in parenthesis, Bruce Gomez, among other pastelists, would call you out for that… “It’s PAINT!” I won’t tell cause I still slip up and call it “Chalk.”
That was such a lovely day on the lawn in front of the lodge. Thanks for reminding me.
Box Canyon Mark
Captured rainbow hues,
magic mirror on a stand
melding hard to soft.
Sounds like we have the same artistic talents. Luckily, you don’t need talent to appreciate that of others. Very cool that your trip coincided with this event. We have never heard of it but will now look it up for next year to see if we can make it!
I am always in awe of the artists in our parks and how fast they work to catch the light and shadows with their chosen medium. Have always wanted to paint but just make mud. I like my colored pencils, and pastels also even if I haven’t seen them in years, well maybe decades. I believe photography can help you SEE as well. Glad you timed this Zion visit right. Grand Canyon has a Celebration of Arts in September. Good fund raiser.
I think of your photos as ART.
Always enjoy your posts and photos. Do you have any idea how much the fund raiser makes for Zion. Wonder what the average price for one of the pieces of art would fetch?
Your artistic talents are your awesome photography and thoughtful prose. Thanks for this wonderful post- Mary Lou
Beautiful post! Bobbie posted several photos on FB, but to see it all described in this post was great. How totally cool to watch the scenery come to life on a canvas:) Thanks for sharing!
Lovely! I too, have no ability to paint or draw. I do believe we each have some kind of creative talent though…mine is in the garden and the kitchen.
Thanks Suzanne! You have just given me a new item (Art show) to add to my bucket list to visit. I have been to Zion before but have never heard of this event. Your pictures are wonderful. Thanks for sharing! John
Wow, so impressive and inspiring – of course the landscapes, which I love, but the artists too. Thanks for sharing.
What a wonderful combination of art and the natural world! My mother would have loved it.
Suzanne – You are an artist with your camera! Really beautiful photography.
I can’t believe we have yet to visit Zion. I had the good fortune to win a contest that a professional photographer and friend conducted. I now have two of his beautiful framed photos of Zion in my house. One is a photo of the Virgin River, which looks to be very close to the image you posted above. Your photography always inspires me Suzanne. Love how you captured the artists’ work.