When Art Changes Things / by Louis Holstein

Art has the power to change things. There are many stories throughout history we can look at and see the influence and power that art can have on people, places, and circumstances. A couple weeks ago I stumbled across one of these stories. This is the story of how a National Park's name was influenced by a piece of art. 

The year is 1903, Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh has returned to the wilderness of Utah from the art schools of Europe. He sits down to paint a landscape that he will eventually call, Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon  by Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, Oil on Canvas ( source )

Zion Canyon by Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, Oil on Canvas (source)

Dellenbaugh had already seen this landscape before, about 30 years prior, when he was 17 years old serving as a topographer and chart maker to explorer John Wesley Powell. His naming of the painting Zion Canyon was not a new name, however. In the 1300's this land was inhabited by the Southern Paiute Tribes, and they named it Mukentuweap, meaning "straight canyon." In the 1800s, when the Mormons moved to the region, they called it Zion, in reference to the Biblical land of promise. Regardless of the painting's name roots, it was this painting that brought national attention to the area. 

In 1904, Dellenbaugh submitted the painting to the St. Louis World's Fair. He also published a 17-page article in the Scribner's Magazine entitled, "A New Valley of Wonders." Between the two of these public acts, National attention brought this land much popularity. So much so, President Taft designated the area as Mukentuweap National Monument in 1909. About a decade later, Congress would change the name to what we now know as Zion National Park.

This is a wonderful story of the power of art. Artists force us to see what they want us to see and bring attention to the details we often times look over. When I hear of stories like that, that have such a lasting impact on history and culture it inspires me to continue what I'm doing as an artist. Art changes things.