Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The History of Monument Valley

May 30, 2012

Getting ready for a big road trip this weekend. Heading first to the Navajo Res and the Monument Valley area. Got a new book in the office about the Wetherill Trading Post in Kayenta, "Shadows On The Mesa: Artists of the Painted Desert and Beyond," by Gary Fillmore, who has a gallery—Blue Coyote Gallery—in Cave Creek. In fact, I drive by his gallery every day on my way to work. It's next to Big Earl's Greasy Eats (the old Jim's Full Serve gas station).

The Wetherills were in the Monument Valley area even before the Gouldings and virtually all of the artists who visited in the early 1920s are heroes of mine, including Jimmy Swinnerton, Maynard Dixon, W.R. Leigh and Gunnar Widforss. In terms of the history of the iconic landscape, in the timeline, it's amazing that so many artists and writers, including Zane Grey, were writing about and painting the Monument Valley scenery for a decade or more before a certain director finally showed up in the late thirties to film parts of the classic Western Stagecoach.

Called Ed Mell yesterday and he steered me to some of the movers and shakers in the area (Ed taught at Hotevilla on the Hopi res in the 1960s). In fact, Ed and I drove through Monument Valley two years ago coming back from a plein air painting trip in Utah. We hit a huge dust storm. Here is a photo of the back side of Monument Valley, coming in from Mexican Hat on that trip:

You can barely make out the mittens at left. Meanwhile, here is a frame capture from a film, shooting near the spot where I posed. Can you name the movie? And the actor?

And speaking of which, we ran the photo of me in front of the Mittens in the current issue of True West, which prompted this email:

"Howdy BBB, Are you really in front of the mittens or is that a photoshop job?  One of my favorite places on earth is right there...another great issue."

 —Ranger Rob Dean, Big Bend National Park

    Yes, the photo is real. Last summer me and my True West crew got to Monument Valley at about five p.m. in the middle of a thunderstorm. Looked like we couldn't film (we were there videotaping for a Westerns Channel project). We drove down off the mesa where the View Hotel is, and at the second turn, the rain stopped and a double rainbow arced over the left Mitten. We quickly jumped out to tape a True West Moment and as Ken Amorosano scrambled to set up the camera, I jumped a rivulet of water, climbed the berm and turned around for the signal to start taping. Lucinda Amorosano snapped this photo just before, or just after I started my spiel. She shot another ten or twelve photos but this one just pops. I think it's my favorite photo of any that have been taken of me (appearing to stand tall, in a tall place, maybe? Ha.).  One of those happy accidents as we painters are fond of saying.

If you have the new issue of True West, this photo is on the inside back cover. Check it out.

Oh, and speaking of Maynard Dixon, here is a cloud study that is inspired by his style:

it's called "The Road to Red Lake."

"The eye of the beholder governs what is seen."

—Old Vaquero Saying