Monday, December 16, 2013

Painting sacred space: Harrison Crandall and Grand Teton National Park

Harrison R. Crandall: Creating A Vision of Grand Teton National Park, by SNRAS geography professor Kenneth A. Barrick, begins by stating:

"You might be curious to know how a professor from Alaska became interested in Harrison R. Crandall, who preferred to be called 'Hank,' and his role in creating a vision of Grand Teton National Park."

It turns out that Dr. Barrick has been collecting national park art, and in particular photochromes (color lithographs), for a very long time. William Henry Jackson's—and now Hank Crandall's—works are Barrick's particular passion. Jackson was a photographer in the 1870s in the Hayden expedition, a scientific expedition which explored the Yellowstone area. He and Thomas Moran the painter brought the visual wonders of the area to the eyes of the public and Congress, helping show people who didn't know what a geyser was, for example, and in the process providing support for the creation of the 1872 Park Bill.

In a similar way, Crandall helped to visually interpret and explain the Grand Tetons to people through his work, enabling them to connect to the West through his hand-painted photographs and landscape paintings. Crandall was the park's first and only official photographer and Jackson Hole's first resident artist, homesteading in the Teton Range from before the park was officially created, and he continued to live in the Tetons until his death in 1970.

Barrick first discovered this painter/photographer at an art show in Bozeman, Montana, while he was looking for photochromes by Jackson. His eye was caught by two portraits, one of a wild rose (right) and another of fringed gentian, both of which he promptly purchased. ("Wild Rose," by H.R. Crandall, courtesy K.A. Barrick Collection)

"Many people today don't realize that color photos first became available as hand-painted black and white photographic images," Barrick explained. So, people could hang a "color photo" on their wall more than a hundred years before color photography was invented. "[Hank Crandall's] have very bold, deeply saturated colors, so they're very beautiful to look at."

Barrick tried to find out more about the artist, but there was very little information available. His research eventually led him to Grand Teton National Park, and Alice Hart, now former curator at Teton, with whom he was to work for six years, and Crandall's family. Images in the book came largely from the park archives, Crandall's family, the National Archives in Washington, DC, and two galleries (Cayuse Western Americana and Fighting Bear Antiques). Some images were unique to the Crandall family archives, particular the early items, so the public is seeing them here for the first time; some commercial items were displayed in Hank's studio over the years at the park. These range in size from small souvenirs to full-sized paintings, including the large and dramatic landscape that hangs in the Moose Visitors' Center and adorns the book cover.

Hank Crandall and his family in front of the Grand Tetons. From left to right: daughter Nancy, wife Hilda, Hank, and daughter Quita. Photo by H.R. Crandall, courtesy of Grand Teton National Park Archive.

Crandall excelled in more than one genre: black and white photography, opaque overpainting on photos, and painting. The opaque paints were unusual: most hand-painted photos of the day used transparent paints. Crandall depicted people within a recreational wilderness in his photos and movies, often inserting gags and staging the images. His paintings of landscapes very rarely included people, and almost always were of a slightly romanticized wilderness. He also made a dozen films during the 1920s, including documentaries of life in Jackson Hole and a dramatic film titled The Hold Up.

"Begging for Sugar," Photograph by H.R. Crandall, courtesy Grand Teton National Park Archive. 

Crandall had been fascinated from an early age by the area: he had decided as a schoolchild to go to the Tetons because of a photograph he saw of the area by William Henry Jackson. He moved from Kansas to California, and eventually homesteaded in Jackson's Hole, where he remained.

Barrick explained the concept of geopiety, or the belief that certain geographical sites are sacred. Many such sites evoke awe, including the Tetons, which dramatically jut up from a comparatively flat area. Barrick makes the case in his book that the Teton Range were Crandall's sacred mountains. It is certainly apparent in Crandall's many decades of painting the mountains of the Teton Range that he brought respect to his subject and appreciation for their drama and beauty.

The parks and Hank Crandall
  • 1872 Park Bill: The first national park was Yellowstone, approved by Congress in part because of the images that Moran and Jackson sent. The mandate of the bill was that the park be for the enjoyment of the American people. At first, a civilian staff managed the park.
  • 1872–1916: In 1886, the military took over management of Yellowstone National Park. Other parks began to be added, some managed by the states, some by the federal government.
  • 1916: The Organic Act created the National Park Service and system and established the goals for park service. The young Park Service was competing with the Forest Service for funds and recognition, trying to prevent poaching on park grounds, and figure out how to get the public to come visit. Artists and their on-site studios became important because they were the only park interpreters. Artwork depicting the parks also became significant in Washington, DC, for more than its beauty. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, the first and second directors of the Park Service, respectively, and several prominent members of Congress, for example, displayed Crandall's paintings in their offices.
  • 1920s: While Crandall was homesteading at Jackson Hole, Albright entertained John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and son, taking them to see the Grand Tetons. Rockefeller was so taken by the area that he eventually donated $1.5 million to buy up a portion of the valley floor for the park expansion (an act that is still controversial to some!). Albright depended on artists like Crandall, who supported the park expansion, to interpret and portray the landscape. Hank spent his life in the park, painting and photographing the people and wilderness around him. His studio is now the Jenny Lake Visitor Center.
  • 1954: Hank's studio at the old homesite at Paintbrush Point burned down, but 1,200 negatives were saved, including photos of Native Americans, portraits of the family, movie actors, early national park managers, Civilian Conservation Corps crews, and other images, and a dozen 1920s-era vintage silent films.
"There's still lots of Crandall's art out there that we don't know about," said Barrick. He asks that anyone who has work by Hank Crandall to please contact him at "Maybe there will be enough for a second edition of the book, or even a second volume!"

Dr. Barrick's book is available through Gulliver's Books and Barnes & Noble and other online stores, and is on display at the Rasmuson Library.

More information:
Ken Barrick is working on other projects, including:
  • National Park Souvenirs: Taking Home the Sacred, which will document the history and unique meaning of souvenir art and ephemera of the national parks. 
  • a book on the impact of geoengineering on the naturalness and wilderness: a major part of the definition of wilderness is that it is a self-willed environment or ecosystem without human control or development. Geoengineering, by definition, is an attempt by humans to control climate by technological fixes, so naturalness will disappear from the region (depending on the size, up to global). In the United States, any impact on wilderness by geoengineering appears to violate the intent of the Wilderness Act, says Barrick, which incorporates naturalness as a key component of wilderness.

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