Thomas Moran painted this beautiful watercolor of the Grand Canyon on a 1901 trip that was organized and paid for by the Santa Fe Railroad.   The Railroad treated Moran and other artists to a three-week excursion at the Canyon, together with a guide to point out the most picturesque views.  The Railroad’s aim was to get artists to paint the sites which would encourage tourists to visit the Canyon.  It is a revealing example of artists collaborating with business to simultaneously promote both the artists’ work and develop the tourist industry and land sales.

Speaking of tourism, Moran’s drawing takes me back to the days when my children were young and my husband and I were deciding where to go with the kids for a spring vacation.  I never wanted to take them to the National Parks.  All my friends were going out West in campers on a circuit of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite.  This, I said, was not my idea of fun!   I dreaded driving in the camper or trailing a camper behind our car.  I lobbied instead for a trip to Provence where we would rent a house for a week or ten days and I would introduce my family to the language and culture of France.  Of course, I won the argument and we did go to southern France.  So my sons never got to see the National Parks I said, so what!

Twenty-five years later, during a family vacation to Sedona, Arizona, we took a one-day trip up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I will never forget the truly awesome, spiritual experience I had there.  I had remembered seeing the Grand Canyon from a plane on the way to California, and being amazed at its size:  it took ten minutes to fly over it!  Now, standing on the rim of the Canyon, I had a new appreciation for Moran’s watercolor.   Gazing across at the pink rock formations and into the deep precipice, I wished we had the time to really explore the Canyon by trekking down the steep trails.  Thomas Moran had done it on a mule, but I really wanted to hike, even though I knew that climbing up would  hurt.   Perhaps one day, when our granddaughters are a bit older, my husband and I will take them on a tour of the National Parks, but not in a camper.  A decent, clean motel bed would do nicely!

Today is Thomas Moran’s birthday!

Visit our website to find the catalogue for the Cooper-Hewitt’s 2006 exhibition Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape.

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