Starting with a photo of a passage I found online, an historic research study by William H. Goetzmann. I wanted to transcribe and quote most of it - so in the interest of time, here you go. I learned several interesting things about artists in the Tetons. Albert Bierstadt also painted the Tetons, but the paintings are believed to have been invented. Thomas Moran's painting The Three Tetons hangs in the Oval Office facing the president. So now if I ever meet a president we have a topic of conversation. Thomas Moran never saw or painted the Tetons from Jackson Hole, so I technically should have spent all my time on the Idaho side of the mountains. In search of a Moran View of the Tetons I drove two hours over to the Idaho side of the Teton Mountains. The pass from Jackson Hole to Idaho is steep and long. I can see how this would have been a difficult journey on horseback by Moran or anyone in his party.
The western slope of the Tetons is part of the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area. I pulled out at an overlook and saw the three Tetons, clearly defined on the horizon. This is just what Moran saw! After searching for a view like this unsuccessfully on the eastern side, I was really thrilled to see the view so similar to his painting. I thought about painting here, but was intrigued by the Ranger's mention of a ski lift at Grand Targhee Resort that runs in the summer. Sure enough, the ski lift is open and takes hikers and mountain bikers up to the top of the mountain, where there is a stunning view of the three Tetons. Sounded like something fun to do, even if the view on the top wasn't the best to paint. By this I mean I have learned when you ask people for a "good view" of something it is not always the best spot to paint, or best view compositionally. I find it better to be farther back from whatever I'm painting.
I hopped off the ski lift at the top and hiked on over the ridge to see the Tetons. Great view, but the view from the parking lot overlook was more akin to Moran's paintings of the three Tetons. But, I couldn't regret the $15 I spent on the ski lift ticket or the fun I had getting up there (I am a child, easily entertained...just like the Annie Dillard quote about pennies). I decided to stay and paint a 5x7 canvas. It was really nice up there...not too crowded, and the view was spectacular and panoramic. Behind me was a big chunk of snow (I think I saw a young Asian man from Kansas see snow for the first time...or he's just easily excitable like me). To my left was a stunning canyon that looked like hardened lava flow, in front of me were the three Tetons looming grandly, in an out of partial cloud cover, with some foothills in the front. To my right was the Idaho valley and the city of Driggs. The colors and values of the landscape were in constant motion...it's almost like a flowing river, always moving, so the still mountains seem active.
I realized later that the mountain in front of the three Tetons is Tabletop Mountain (one man told me it is called Nipple Mountain...perhaps descriptively correct but not geographically accurate). This is the mountain William Henry Jackson, the photographer on the Hayden expedition and close friend/colleague of Moran, took some famous photos of the Tetons. So although my painting isn't the most "Moran" view, it has nods to both artists with the inclusion of Tabletop Mountain. The hike to Tabletop is highly recommended, but about 14 miles round trip. Not something I can hack with my paint pack...I need to borrow a rancher's horse. I am so intrigued by Jackson's photographs and the precious window into the past they provide. Photography back then was still so new that it was a feat and adventure to get all his equipment anywhere (HE had a horse to carry all his stuff...and two assistants to help set up all the equipment).
Two more things: first, Moran was active and productive his entire life. He traveled and painted basically until he died at age 89. I don't think artists ever "retire," they just get arthritis/sick/ailing and are forced to stop. Art is a lifelong pursuit. Second, I listened to the National Parks documentary by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns and there is an interview with a Native American man who has been superintendent of several parks that really struck me. He talks about the human story of the parks, how humans existed in these parks long before they were parks. When you walk into a park, you're also walking into somebody's homeland, house, church. The land has been utilized for generations and generations. The idea of "discovery" by white explorers is really not discovery at all. He talks about the lands in national parks being sacred, and still alive, by the fact that they have been set aside as national parks, even though native peoples were forced off the lands. Sacred to him means that everything is alive and has spirit - which echoes words of John Muir. Muir truly listened to the world around him...always learning, not discovering, but living with. Gathering stories and experiences of his time in nature. What a different mentality than that of "discovery." Another layer had been added to my personal narrative of these parks.
|Great view of the Theee Tetons at a turnout...thought about painting here but was intrigued by the ski lift.|
|Casually riding a ski lift in the summer.|
|Idaho behind me. And part of Wyoming. Also known as the border of the two states.|
|Just a cool cat, having fun with her bad self.|
|Magnificent! My hard work on the sky lift paid off.|
|There's snow up here!|
|Just watching him made me feel more peaceful.|
|To my left as I worked.|
|A studio really on the top of a mountain.|
|Coming soon to the front cover of Hiker's Vogue.|
|No wait actually this is. Not willing to disclose how many shots it took to get this.|
|The Three Tetons, 5x7in.|
|Terrible iPad pic of Moran's The Three Tetons because internet is slow to download good pic. Picture it much warmer and brighter.|
|Kept thinking they should be called bridal flowers, but they are Phlox.|
|View a bit farther back from another overlook.|
|Tabletop Mountain, where William Henry Jackson took some photographs of the Tetons. Perhaps Moran was in the area with him?|
|Panoramic View of the Great Teton Range, Looking East by William Henry Jackson.|
|Photographing in High Places by William Henry Jackson, the summit of Tabletop Mountain.|
|Ah, my chariot awaits.|
|A picture's worth a thousand words...finally understanding some of this geology. Science!!!|