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Library Item of the Week: Thomas Moran at the Grand Canyon

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 09:51

In this dramatic photograph, the East Hampton artist Thomas Moran (1837-1926) appears sketching while seated on the edge of the Grand Canyon in an area known as Bright Angel Cove. Today, it's hard to imagine working in the hot sun of the Grand Canyon in the long dark clothes Moran wears here.

Moran is widely credited with creating the artwork that brought home the beauty of Western lands, spurring the creation of our national parks. In 1871, United States Geological Survey director, Ferdinand Hayden, invited Moran to join his expedition to Yellowstone, at the urging of one of Hayden's financial backers. Moran left his wife and young children to travel into the wilderness. His artistic images allowed those far from the frontier to see the stunning beauty of the American West, and the Yellowstone Expedition led to Moran's financial success and national recognition. Moran continued to explore the West, traveling to Yosemite in 1872, and in 1873 he accompanied the Powell Expedition to the Grand Canyon.

At 55, Moran again returned to the Grand Canyon in 1892, and while this image is undated, based on Moran's appearance, it's likely the photograph was taken on that expedition. The photographer is unknown, but photographer William Henry Jackson also accompanied Moran on his 1892 trip to the Grand Canyon.

Following the death of his wife, the artist Mary Nimmo Moran, in 1899, Moran frequently spent his winters at the Grand Canyon with his daughter Ruth, exchanging the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad paintings to be used in promotional graphic design work for train tickets and lodgings. This arrangement allowed Moran to continue traveling to a place he found so inspiring, while still allowing him to create paintings of Long Island and other Eastern locales that were far more familiar and profitable to his patrons. 

Andrea Meyer is the head of the East Hampton Library's Long Island Collection. 

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