For going on 150 years the landscapes of the National Park System have been inspiring artists. Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt and Maynard Dixon are just three of the long, distinguished roster of artists who found their proverbial muse in places such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion national parks. Here are two more you can add to that list, one contemporary, one from the early 20th Century.
Moran, of course, could arguably be called the dean of these masters, as it was in large part his interpretations of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that helped sway Congress into creating the world's first national park. But he also traveled to the Grand Canyon and elsewhere in the West to capture landscapes. Bierstadt was a contemporary, and sided towards darker, perhaps more foreboding, visions of such landscapes as the Yosemite Valley. Dixon brought the Southwest to life with his sketches, watercolors, and paintings.
A contemporary of Mr. Dixon's was a German by the name of Helmut Naumer Sr., who also was enamored with the Southwest. Here's a brief bio, courtesy of the folks at Bandelier National Monument:
Helmut Naumer Sr. was born in Ruetlingen, Germany. In 1926, the young man moved to the United States to experience the West that he had read about in novels of cowboy life. He joined the Merchant Marines after attending the Frank Wiggins Art School in Los Angeles. After six years at sea, Naumer returned to his beloved Santa Fe in 1932. There he began to work in pastels.
As part of the WPA, Naumer created a series of paintings showing scenes in Bandelier National Monument and nearby pueblos. Naumer produced fourteen pastel artworks from 1935-1936 for Bandelier National Monument.
Although Naumer worked in oils and watercolors, pastels were his preferred medium. He felt that pastels allowed him to capture “the fleeting effects of the sky and water and our own New Mexico landscapes with fast changing colors sweeping rapidly across it, for there are hundreds of different colors and shades, so one loses no time in mixing colors as in oil.”
One reason Naumer’s pastels are so distinctive is that he used a black background. That made the drawings appear to glow, bringing out the vivid colors of the local landscapes and sky. His luminous scenes were greatly admired by those who knew them.
Unfortunately, Naumer never gained deserved recognition in the art world as he preferred to give his works away rather than sell them. He died in 1990.
Among the latest to be drawn to the landscapes of the park system is Cathy Skowron, who has lived on Cape Cod since 1969 and has sold her paintings to private collections in Europe as well as North America. Currently some of her landscapes are on display at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Cape Cod National Seashore. The show, runs through February 28. In her paintings you can appreciate the message she tries to convey when she sits down at her canvas.
“When painting or teaching I like to keep in mind Robert Bresson’s words ‘Make visible what, without you, might perhaps have never been seen,'” says Ms. Skowron.
The details: You can view some of Helmut Naumer's works at the Bandelier National Monument's museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until mid-March, when the hours are extended until 5:30 p.m. In summer the center is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
The Salt Pond Visitor Center at Cape Cod National Seashore is located at Route 6 and Nauset Road in Eastham, and can be contacted by calling (508) 255-3421. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If you're interested in meeting Ms. Skowron, head to the visitor center on February 14 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.n., or on February 20 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.