Exhibit showcases GCA, park collections

An exhibit of rarely-seen Grand Canyon art opens tomorrow evening at Kolb Studio and runs through Jan. 3.

"A Legacy of Grand Canyon Art" kicks off with a reception from 7-9 p.m., marking the first time that Grand Canyon Association and Grand Canyon National Park have put works from their collections on display.

"It's the first time we've had a significant collection that was large enough to mount an exhibit," said Pam Frazier of GCA.

The show features about 30 works, eight or nine from the park's collection and the rest belonging to GCA. They represent two distinct collections with different missions.

"The Park Service mission is to preserve their collection for future generations," Frazier said. "The Grand Canyon Association mission is to make the works accessible to the public as a teaching tool and to support the Park's interpretive theme of inspiration."

Frazier said that GCA Director Brad Wallis championed the idea of a collection more than a decade ago. In 1993, the Association began an ambitious program to build an exhibit-worthy collection with its first purchase, "Breaking of Light" by Gordon Brown. Other purchases followed. For about a decade, GCA has acquired art by sponsoring the Grand Canyon category in the Arts for the Parks competition. That contest draws thousands of entries from new and established artists in the U.S. and beyond. The association offers a purchase award of $6,000.

The park's collection belongs to the Parks and Museum Collection and includes donated works, including those given by artists participating in the North Rim artist-in-residence program. Three artists are hosted each summer.

"One of the requirements is that the artist contribute to the park at least one work," said Frazier.

Included in the exhibit will be two original Thomas Moran oils, four watercolors by Gunnar Widforss, "National Treasure" which was donated to the to the park for its 75th anniversary by artist Kurt Walters and work by Bruce Aiken.

Many of the works carry their own legacy. For example, Widforss relied on the hospitality of residents to stay here at the Canyon to paint.

"Often he would give paintings to his hosts as a thank you, and he paid debts with his paintings," said Frazier. "Emery Kolb had eight of them when he died."

In the early 1930s, Widforss stayed with Dan McHenry and his wife on the North Rim and gave them a painting as well. This year, McHenry's son Bruce donated it to the GCA. He and his wife will be at the opening reception.

While GCA would like to develop the definitive Grand Canyon collection, "the truth is that we can't afford to buy some of the ones that we would need," Frazier said.

Important contemporary artists she believes should be part of the collection include Peter Nisbet, Merrill Mahaffey, Ed Mell, Tony Foster, William Scott Jenning, Shonto Begay, Jon Cogan and Joella G. Mahoney.

"We are looking for established western artists of strong reputation to really create a solid core and that core adds to the stature of the collection," said Frazier.

Frazier said this exhibit is the first step toward the association's vision of a collection available for showing across the country.

"We want to build a permanent collection, a legacy akin to that of the Santa Fe Railroad. Their patronage encouraged the creation of original artworks and defined the public's concept for the west. We want to do likewise with a collection that reaches beyond park boundaries," she said.

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