"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
- Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States.
Early in his writing career, John Steinbeck found himself so frustrated with his work that he threatened to abandon his writing entirely. His then wife, Carol, told him to write what he knew and his passion would shine through. Shortly thereafter, the famous author who wrote about the interconnection between man and the land he occupies, would go on to write some of the finest works in history including the Nobel Prize winning novel Grapes of Wrath.
This is sound advice not just for him but for all artists. I love being in nature and exploring wide open spaces and I paint those landscapes that move me. National Parks and other fragile wilderness areas feel like my second home. So when I learned that our National Park Service (NPS) was turning 100 years old in 2016, it seemed natural for me to create a body of work around them in their honor.
Shortly after I made this decision to document our Western National Parks (from Alaska to the the Grand Canyon) I was awarded an Artist-In-Residence position at the Grand Canyon National Park during the NPS Centennial Year Celebration. What I didn’t realize when I began this project is that the National Parks and Monuments were about to face some of the most challenging threats in their history.
In the year of their 100th birthday, the Antiquities Act of 1906 came under attack by some who wanted it dismantled. The Antiquities Act, passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, gives the President of the United States the authority, by presidential proclamation, to create national monuments from public lands in order to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. It has been used 150 times by nearly every president, Republican and Democrat, from Theodore Roosevelt on. A few times it has been enacted during last days of a president's term in order to to set aside wild or historic places from pending destruction. It has done more than any other law to shape our nation's conservation legacy. Many of our National Parks came under scrutiny prior to receiving their national protection status during the last century. Just imagine if we had not put the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or the many other of our majestic National Parks and Monuments, that millions of us visit a year, into protection. National Parks (and Monuments) really are "America's Greatest Idea". And now for the first time in history, there is a proposal to rescind our more recent National Monuments. Our increasing world population and its continued drain on our limited natural resources have put these lands on the endangered list. It is time for us to think like Steinbeck and question how we live with the land, not just from the land.
Years after John Steinbeck's writer's block he advised another writer that "your work is your only weapon." Artists have been a voice of our times since the beginning of time. We are mirrors and narrators of the world. What has started as a passion project for me has become a mission: to show you that National Parks and public lands, OUR lands, are one of the reasons America is truly Grand." ~ Lisa Gilley
American Grandeur: Artist Statement
Upper Teklanika (Denali National Park, Alaska) :: 49" x 91" | Oil on Board | 2014
Lisa Gilley in working around Eielson Bluffs in Denali NP, Alaska 2014