Indiana Daily Student

National parks spark expert’s talk, inspire art



Stephen Wolter drew on his national park expertise and his passion for photography Wednesday at the IU Art Museum Noon Talk series.
Wolter, executive director of IU’s Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands, focused the talk, titled “Scenic Wonders: Photography and America’s National Parks”, on the influence of 19th-century landscape photography and the establishment of national parks.

On hand in the gallery were prints from government-appointed photographers who went on the early expeditions of the Western frontier.  

“All of these prints are part of our permanent collection, including one recent acquisition,” said Nan Brewer, the museum’s curator of works on paper.  

Photographers represented included William Henry Jackson, Carleton E. Watkins and Ansel Adams. In addition, there was a new Timothy O’Sullivan print, a gift from Wolter and his wife.

Wolter explained that the detailed black and white photographs influenced legislation that established our current national parks.

“When Yellowstone was created, the halls of Congress were full of prints by Jackson,” Wolter said. “Many people stated at the time that it was the photographs of Jackson that were critically important to the passage of the bills.”

Wednesday’s talk complemented the airing of a six-part documentary directed by Ken Burns. The series, titled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, is airing locally on WTIU through Friday.

Wolter, who described himself as passionate about the national parks and photography, promoted the documentary and expressed his optimism that public land is gaining media attention.

“For me, this is a watershed of events for us to talk about as a society,” Wolter said.
Many in the audience shared Wolter’s perspective.

“How many of you have been to Yosemite?” Wolter asked the audience.
The majority raised their hands.
“I spent my honeymoon there,” Wolter said. 

Beckie Owens, who works with the IU medical sciences program, said she attended because she has visited many of the national parks and is recording the Ken Burns documentary, a six-part series called “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which aired on WTIU on Sept. 27.

Sophomore Norhan Bassiouny attended the talk for a photography class she is taking this semester.

Although Bassiouny doesn’t have a lot of photography experience, she said she appreciates that photographs can preserve beauty.

“I like the fact that you see something that looks nice, you take a photo and it is there,” she said.

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