T. “Yellowstone” Moran

Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011 in Stories

From the very beginning, the American West has captured people’s imagination.

The expansive land west of the Mississippi was considered a mystery when President Thomas Jefferson purchased it in 1803. Some people dreamed of it as Eden. Others rushed after it as though it represented hope itself. In fact, it was both. It also was much more. The great American West was a majestic mix of tallgrass prairies caressed by the wind, water slicing and falling through the wrinkles of monumental peaks, and a maze of tinted canyons sculpted by the earth’s restlessness.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first ones officially dispatched to map the new territory and solve the mystery through a scientific eye. Traders, explorers, and adventurers followed. In the mid-1860s, organized teams of geological surveyors accompanied by photographers and artists, set out to find answers from the American West. When they shared what they had discovered, the curiosity of vast audiences both at home and abroad was even further ignited.

The early wave of scouts had left as recorders. They returned as mythmakers. They had been on a quest for information. What they encountered was remade into a sublime experience. What had been a mystery soon took on the magic of myth.

Those early artists inspired much of the mystique and lure of the so-called “Old West”. The works they left recorded a time, place, and cultures that vanished long ago.

One of those artists was Thomas Moran.

Born in England in 1837 and raised in the United States, Moran became one of this nation’s foremost landscape painters. He was one of the very first to visit the region now known as Yellowstone. Images that Moran created from a journey there in 1871 made an impact that is still recognized today. Moran returned from Yellowstone with copious notes and dozens of field sketches and watercolors, many of which were distributed to members of Congress. His work became a critical ingredient in the passage of legislation that resulted in the designation of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park.

Moran was a fierce champion of Yellowstone. Ultimately, He became so identified with his paintings of the region that he adopted the nickname “T. Yellowstone Moran,” and often signed his monogram TYM.

Thomas Gilcrease also loved the American West and among the Oklahoma oil man’s favorite artists was “Yellowstone” Moran. Beyond the monumental paintings and watercolors of Yellowstone, Gilcrease enjoyed Moran’s magnificent portraits of the Grand Canyon and other western locales. Today the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa boasts more than 2,500 works by Moran — the single largest collection of the artist anywhere in the world.