A CELEBRATION OF OUR NATIONAL PARKS
To celebrate the centennial of the National Park System, and to highlight the centrality of art in advocacy for the natural world, the David Brower Center asked Bay Area artists to reflect on national parks and what they mean to us. Common Ground features the work of twenty local artists who have found inspiration and meaning in our parklands.
Art was crucial to creation of the National Park System. Paintings by early 19th century artists like William Bartram and James Audubon made wild nature real to the public. The oils of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Thomas Moran, William Keith, and other painters of Yosemite moved President Lincoln, in 1864, to protect that valley as a park. The success of David Brower and Ansel Adams in getting a copy of Adams’s portfolio, Sierra Nevada: the John Muir Trail, into the hands of Franklin Roosevelt tipped the balance in the creation of Kings Canyon National Park.
The Organic Act of 1916 established the National Park Service and defined its mission: “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
“The best idea we ever had,” Wallace Stegner wrote of the national parks. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
Over a century since its inception, America’s best idea has evolved into an even better one today. We see our reserves of unspoiled nature not just as places for human enjoyment but as refuges for organic wholeness and spiritual renewal, with implications for human survival. The essential virtues of the national parks – wildlife, wilderness, ecosystems, biodiversity, open space, silence – need no economic or recreational rationale for their existence. They exist because they should.