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The Annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art

Updated on April 1, 2018
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I've lived in Flagstaff, AZ, since 2003, where I'm an active member of the Coconino County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team and an avid hiker.

Plein air artists on the South Rim of Grand Canyon
Plein air artists on the South Rim of Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon Welcomes Plein Air Painters from Near and Far

To some, the words "quick draw" conjure up an image of a Wild West gunslinger drawing his weapon from its holster at lightning speed. To others, particularly those who stand along the South Rim of Grand Canyon each September with easels, paint, and paintbrushes in hand, quick draw means a limit of two hours to capture on canvas the grandeur of the landscape before them, its shadows and colors shifting as the sun rises higher and a crowd of spectators watch as the artists carry out their creative work.

This Quick Draw competition is part of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, an annual event that includes a week of artist activities followed by a two-month exhibition in historic Kolb Studio, itself perched on the edge of the canyon for more than a century.

Living just 90 minutes from Grand Canyon, this is an event I can attend each year, whether I get there during the actual painting or the exhibition that follows. Here are some images from last year's show and more information about the event. If you're ever in the area during the Celebration of Art or while the exhibit is up, I highly recommend you work a visit into your itinerary. It's a fun and beautiful addition to the Grand Canyon experience.

Image Credit (above): Used with permission from the Grand Canyon Association (A friend of mine works there and heads the annual event, so she kindly passed along the photo, since I was unable to be there for the actual painting.). Unless otherwise noted, the rest of the photos here were taken by me.


What is Plein Air?

First, a little definition

En plein air is a French term meaning "in the open air," often used to describe the act of painting outdoors in natural light. The popularity of painting en plein air rose in the 1870s with the availability of paints in tubes. Until then, artists had to make their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil.

In the photo above, you see artists who attended the Grand Canyon event plein air painting along the wall near the El Tovar hotel on the South Rim. And here's a close-up of a work in progress.

About the Event - A successful annual fundraiser

Kolb Studio, perched on the edge of Grand Canyon's South Rim in Grand Canyon Village
Kolb Studio, perched on the edge of Grand Canyon's South Rim in Grand Canyon Village

The Celebration of Art is an invitational and juried event hosted by the Grand Canyon Association, the National Park Service's official nonprofit partner, which raises private funds to benefit the park by operating retail shops and visitor centers within the park boundaries and providing educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the area.

The Celebration of Art, having concluded its fourth year in 2012, has become one of the Association's premier events and most successful fundraisers. According to the Kolb Studio gallery manager, last year's event raised more during its first six weeks than the studio did in all of 2011. The artwork ranged in price from $150 for 3-by-5-inch framed pieces up to $10,700. As much as 40 to 50 percent of the pieces were sold during the artist reception for buyers, sponsors and donors.

The Artists

In January of each year, a panel of jurors review all artist applications and select six to eight new artists who, along with returning and invited artists, make up the event's talented participants. The 4th Annual Celebration of Art, which was held from Sept. 8-Nov. 25, 2012, featured 26 of the finest landscape artists from around the U.S. and Canada.

Each participating artist brings a completed studio piece to the Celebration and then creates more artwork on site during the "Plein Air on the Rim" and Quick Draw events that take place in Grand Canyon Village and other areas of the park.

Visitors enjoy watching the artists as they translate what they see in the vast landscape before them into unique works which then become available for purchase.


Featured Artist: Cody DeLong

A top-selling and award-winning participant

Artist, gallery owner and Colorado River-runner Cody DeLong from Jerome, Ariz., a veteran of many plein air events, has participated in every Grand Canyon Celebration of Art since its inception in 2009. Being a fellow Arizonan, I spoke to Cody directly about his experience.

About plein air painting with an audience at the canyon, he says, "It's not the same as my normal creative process, where I like to be quiet and take the first hour to really focus. But as a professional artist, you psych yourself up to chat with people and educate and provide entertainment for the public." Cody says that having a clear vision before he begins painting makes it much easier to handle the social aspect.

Another challenge of the Grand Canyon plein air event, he tells me, is the fact that artists are asked to paint at specific locations at specific times, when the light is not at its most dramatic, as it would be earlier or later in the day. "As an artist, though," Cody says, "you make the best of it. What's amazing is that you have 26 artists all painting basically from the same location at the same time, and what you see are 26 very different results."

Cody DeLong was 2012's top selling artist at the event, also winning the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn Purchase Award for his studio oil painting, Lapping Waves of the Colorado," a scene from one of his river trips through the canyon.

Visit Cody DeLong's website to see his beautiful work and his gallery.

The Quick Draw - A popular part of the Celebration of Art

Cody DeLong described to me the energy of the Quick Draw and said that "people know they're going to get a good deal on a piece by a well-known artist, and there's also the connection they'll have to the art, having watched it being created."

Following the two-hour painting session, during which artists set up along the rim between Mather Point and Kolb Studio to swiftly commit canyon to canvas, park residents and visitors come together for a live auction on the north lawn of the El Tovar hotel and bid on the drying, newly-framed pieces.

The Goal for Funds Raised from the Event

With participating artists paying their own way and for their own stay at the Grand Canyon, half of all proceeds from the Celebration of Art - from sales of the plein air works, studio pieces, and event t-shirts, totes and art catalogues - are specifically dedicated to funding a permanent art venue on the South Rim that will preserve and showcase the spectacular collection of historic and contemporary paintings owned by Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon Association. Whether this permanent collection will be housed in an existing building or a new facility has yet to be determined.

On the next to last day of last year's exhibit, less than one third of the artwork remained in the main showroom, with some of those pieces also marked as sold. During the opening reception and awards ceremony held on Sept. 15, there was so much art that some of the works were displayed in other areas of the building, in what was formerly the residence of pioneering photographers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb.

The Exhibit at Kolb Studio

The Exhibit at Kolb Studio
The Exhibit at Kolb Studio
Looking down at Indian Gardens from the South Rim
Looking down at Indian Gardens from the South Rim

Artists In and Around the Canyon

As they've done since the first Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, the artists created the majority of their plein air paintings on the South Rim.

Beginning with the 2011 event, artists are now also present at the North Rim, 10 miles as the crow flies across the canyon from Kolb Studio or a 220-mile drive from Grand Canyon Village. And for the first time in 2012, the event also included a painter working at Indian Gardens, four and a half miles below the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail, and two others at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. These artists hiked down carrying their own supplies, painted in the heat of the inner canyon, where they remained for a few days then hiked back out with their new paintings, protected in special cases that separate each piece.

During the event, artists also paint at Lee's Ferry, the drive-in location at the eastern end of the park where Colorado River trips through Grand Canyon begin.

Another new addition to the 2012 show was a six-day plein air workshop offered at the South Rim, taught by award-winning artist Linda Glover Gooch and hosted by the Grand Canyon Field Institute and Scottsdale Artists' School.

Who Can Participate

The event is open to all artists 18 years and older with plein air experience and experience painting the Grand Canyon. With the exception of the studio piece, all artwork must be completed on site at the Grand Canyon and must feature Grand Canyon National Park subject matter.

Each participating artist must submit a minimum of three plein air pieces produced during the event. Blank canvases are stamped with an official event insignia during the artists' orientation and registration.

Artists may also submit up to fifteen Grand Canyon-themed plein air pieces for back-up sales.

The 10th Annual Celebration of Art

The event kicks off on Sept. 8, 2018, beginning with a week of plein air painting and culminating with the Quick Draw and auction on Sept. 15, followed by the Buyer's Preview and Awards Reception and an Opening Reception & Awards Ceremony.

Admission is free with entry to Grand Canyon National Park.

The Art of the Grand Canyon - 150 Years of Painting

The Majesty Of The Grand Canyon: 150 Years In Art
The Majesty Of The Grand Canyon: 150 Years In Art
This beautiful book, which I've seen on a friend's coffee table, includes art by both well-known painters of the past up through contemporary artists. You'll see works by Thomas Moran, W. R. Leigh, Louis Akin, Ed Mell, Frank Mason, P. A. Nisbet, Bruce Aiken, Earl Carpenter and more.

© 2013 Deb Kingsbury


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