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Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
Pinacate Painting

From: Journal of the Southwest
Volume 49, Number 3, Autumn 2007
pp. 489-505 | 10.1353/jsw.2007.0015

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Pinacate Painting William K. Hartmann The Pinacate volcanic field is a marvelous locale for an artist in any medium. It has inspired various literary creations from the travelogues of Hornaday to the tall tales of Esquer. It has inspired varied photographic approaches from the tripod-based plates of those early explorers to Adriel Heisey’s aerial photos from his modern ultralight airplane. In my own case, the Pinacate craters and mountains have inspired not only writing and photography, but also painting. Many early expeditions to the West included painters along with surveyors, soldiers, and scientists. In fact, one of the painters inspired one of America’s greatest innovations. In 1871, Thomas Moran went along on one of the first explorations of Yellowstone. There he made watercolors, and when returned East, he executed mammoth oil paintings so the public could see the wonders of the frontier. As a result, public and congressional interest led President Ulysses Grant to create our first national park, Yellowstone. Moran became known as “Thomas Yellowstone Moran” and signed his paintings with a “TYM” monogram. Some years later, Moran got off a train in Wyoming, hired mules, visited Devil’s Tower, and wrote an illustrated article about it in a leading magazine—which eventually led Teddy Roosevelt to designate it as our first national monument. As photography spread, black-and-white plates replaced canvases on expeditions, but writers and publishers knew that the early photos did not capture the whole scene. Hornaday, for example, went to special Bill Hartmann is a senior scientist at Tucson’s Planetary Science Institute. His book Desert Heart (1989) is an overview of the larger Pinacate region, and his novel, Cities of Gold (2002), re-creates the first European exploration of the Arizona-Sonora border region, including the Pinacate border country, by the Coronado expedition in 1539–1542. With space artist Ron Miller, he coauthored and coedited several books that used paintings effectively to tell the story of the universe’s evolution as well as to inspire readers with the wonder of it all. These books include The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System, The History of the Earth, Cycles of Fire, and In the Stream of Stars: The Soviet/American Space Art Book. Currently, he is working on several new books, including an overview of Spanish exploration from Mexico into the Southwest, and an account of the geological roots of anti-science fundamentalism in American society. Journal of the Southwest 49, 3 (Autumn 2007) : 489–506 490  ✜  Journal of the Southwest expense to include a painting and hand-tinted photos in Camp-Fires on Desert and Lava. The frontispiece painting by Carl Rungius showed the “rainbow rams,” while another by H. D. Nichols captured Sykes Crater. Tinted photographs depicted a saguaro, desert vegetation and Jeff Milton, an organ pipe cactus, a desert botanical garden, and a sheep bed in the lava. The frontispiece for New Trails in Mexico was a painting by Marius Dahlgren of the Catalina Mountains at sunset. For many readers, these would be their first color views of the Sonoran Desert. The Pinacate country is a land of what my role models, the French impressionists of the 1870s, called motifs. I like this word motif, for it signifies not just the subject per se, but the whole complex of a subject seen in a specific season, at a specific time of day, and under particular skylight conditions. So, one wants to paint not just Cerro Colorado, for example, but Cerro Colorado by moonlight, or Cerro Colorado under the late-afternoon sun, when the west-facing inner wall lights up in a blaze of golden-red. One of my favorite impressionists was Camille Pissarro , who seemed able to find something to paint—a motif—anywhere he went, from a county field to a hotel room window. In the Pinacate, we soon acquire Pissarro’s eye: the motifs are everywhere! Volcanism produces stunning symmetric cones, yawning craters, and flows frozen into “motionless torrents, silent cataracts,” to quote Coleridge. Landscape textures include jagged aa lavas, glassy pahoehoe lavas, sensuous dunes, and the polygonal cracks of desiccated playas. The volcanic soils and drainages support an amazing variety of...