Art in America's First National Park: Bringing the Images of Yellowstone to the People

Yellowstone National Park became America’s first national park in 1852 when it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. The park stretches through the Western states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. With nearly 3,500 square miles of wilderness, Yellowstone is a vast place to explore. One of the most unique aspects of Yellowstone is the number of geysers there. The park itself sits on top of a volcanic hot spot.

How did Americans come to know and love this geological wonder? It was through the artists that brought images of Yellowstone to the people. Scientific survey groups embarked into Yellowstone in the late 1800s. The Hayden Geological Study was the first in 1871 and was led by the geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. The survey was federally funded and its purpose was to explore and document the region of Yellowstone. Along with the geologists, artists were invited on this survey to bring back images of the area. Two of the artists on the Hayden Survey were Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson. Moran was a painter who created gigantic pieces that engulfed the viewer. Jackson was a photographer who provided the earliest photographs of the region. Witnessing the epic paintings of Moran and the photographs of Jackson, other artists began to flock to Yellowstone. A notable artist at the time, Albert Bierstadt visited Yellowstone in 1881. He marveled at the geysers, a spectacle he had never before experienced. Other surveys also went to explore Yellowstone, bringing artists along with them. In the early 1900s, Abby Williams Hill was commissioned by the Northern Pacific Highway to create paintings of the American West. One of the stops along her journey through the West was the newly inaugurated Yellowstone National Park. This tour will explore the works of these four artists, Thomas Moran, William Henry Jackson, Albert Bierstadt, and Abby Williams Hill, in Yellowstone.

Thomas Moran's Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, carved out by the Yellowstone River, stretches 1,500 – 4,000 feet wide, and 800 – 1,200 feet deep. After the Yellowstone Caldera, essentially a giant volcano, erupted more than 600,000 years ago, the canyon was…

William Henry Jackson’s Hot Spring and Castle Geyser

As a member of the Hayden Geographical Survey in 1871, William Henry Jackson was the first photographer in Yellowstone. His photographs informed the government of the landscape and geological sites in Yellowstone, and provided artists on the survey…

Albert Bierstadt's Old Faithful

Old Faithful is a geological wonder with its consistent eruption schedule. It is not the largest or most regular geyser in Yellowstone National Park, yet it has become one of the most popular sites in Yellowstone. Albert Bierstadt, like tourists of…

Abby Williams Hill’s Artemisia Geyser Pool

The Artemisia Geyser Pool sits just below the Gem Pool and Atomizer Geyser in the Upper Basin of Yellowstone Park. The three of these make up the Cascade Group that erupts for a duration of 15–25 minutes once or twice a day. Artemisia is unique…