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Frederick S. Dellenbaugh: Zion Artist

A painter and a photographer helped popularize Zion National Park and bring national attention to southeastern Utah.

Frederick S. Dellenbaugh visited Zion Canyon in the summer of 1903 — 30 years after he’d served John Wesley Powell as topographer and chart maker on Powell’s second expedition of the Colorado River. Dellenbaugh had spotted some of the great towers of Zion Canyon at a distance, but never got a closer look, until three decades had passed.

During those 30 years Dellenbaugh had trained in Europe as an artist. His 1903 visit to Zion Canyon led to a 17-page article published in Scribner’s Magazine — one of the most popular periodicals of the day. “A New Valley of Wonders” was filled with black & white photographs and florid prose like this:
“To the eye prejudiced by the soft blues and grays of a familiar Eastern United States or European district,” he wrote, “this immense prodigality of color is startling, perhaps painful; it seems to the inflexible mind unwarranted, immodest, as if Nature had stripped and posed nude, unblushing before humanity.”

To convey those vivid colors, Dellenbaugh turned to canvas and oil paints, producing a series of Zion Canyon paintings for exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Yet the people who saw those paintings were highly skeptical that any place on earth could have such magnificent cliffs or such vibrant colors.

Yet public opinion was favorably impressed, between Dellenbaugh’s magazine article and his paintings — enough to help nudge President Robert Taft into designating Zion Canyon as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909.

(One of Dellenbaugh’s Zion Canyon paintings is now on display at the Zion Human History Museum. It is a highly realistic, almost photo-like painting of the mouth of Zion Canyon, before park service buildings and roads were built.)

In the 1920s, a talented photographer from Cedar City — one Randall Jones — contributed his talents to publicize Zion Canyon, now a national park.

In the days before color photography was developed, Jones was hired by the Union Pacific Company to shoot black and white slides of Zion Canyon, then carefully tinted them with vibrant colors. Jones traveled the country showing his slides and increasing the public’s desire to see this wonderful canyon.

Jones mat have even teamed up with NPS director Stephen Mather in publicizing Zion. Mather would mail out tinted photographs of Zion in his campaigns to attract visitors and build roads that linked the national parks of southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Eviend T. Scoyen, the first superintendent of Zion, called Jones the “Apostle of the Utah Parks” when asked to identify influential park supporters.

Local bookstores feature “Zion Album, A Nostalgic History of Zion Canyon,” which documents the work of those early and influential photographs by Randall Jones.

(The Randall L. Jones Theater at Southern Utah University is named in his honor, and hosts the Utah Shakespearean Festival productions in the summer and fall.)