March 4, 2010
Brian Cottam, Associate Director
Southern Utah University Office of Regional Services
Paul Husselbee, GR&RS Media Relations
CEDAR CITY — As he leaves The Grotto at Zion National Park on Sunday afternoon and heads home to Texas, Dennis Farris says he’ll take a long look around and snap a mental picture to last a lifetime.
“I could spend the rest of my life just trying to capture Zion on the canvas,” said Farris, a painter who has spent the past month living in the park’s oldest structure as Zion National Park’s artist‐inresidence.
“In Zion, there’s such an amazing range of landscape that I could paint for days and no two subjects would be the same,” Farris said. “A couple of days ago, after a major snowfall, I could have pointed the camera in any direction, and had a painting.”
The visual imagery at Zion is incredible, Farris said.
“It’s almost impossible to describe,” he said. “When I reflect on the layers of history, art and all the people who had a part in bringing me to Zion, I’m overwhelmed.”
Zion National Park began the artist‐in‐residence program in 2008. Through support from Southern Utah University’s Alliance for Education with the park, the program has progressed to the point that the resident artist will become a regular park feature.
Another artist, yet to be named, will take up residence in The Grotto in April. The cabin, located about a mile north of Zion Lodge, previously served as the park museum, but was restored last year for use as the resident artist’s living quarters.
For Farris, 44, an oil painter from Fort Worth, Texas, being picked from a pool of some 80 applicants was “a dream‐come‐true.”
He said he applied for the Zion slot “hoping for the best but not expecting anything. Experience says a lot of eggs don’t hatch; this one did.”
After graduating from Central Missouri State University with a degree in commercial art, Farris moved to Texas to begin work as an illustrator. However, he says, the goal was always to become a painter so that his work would have lasting value.
“Illustration is temporary; you work hard, and then it’s gone,” Farris said. “I like the idea of my work sticking around for a while.”
In 1995, Farris toured Greece.
“When I came back, I realized I could make a living going places, painting, and then coming back, selling my paintings and going back,” he said.
Since then, Farris has returned to Greece, and gone to France, Italy and Great Britain. In the United States, he’s painted in Taos and Santa Fe, N.M., Grand Canyon National Park, Big Bend National Park, and now Zion National Park.
“You’d think there’d be a lot of leisure time in an opportunity like this, but I’m motivated, and Zion has kept me busy,” he said. “I’ll only have so many days here, and they’re ticking away. There’s always something to do.”
A typical workday in Zion includes six to eight hours painting each day and a couple of hours walking through the park taking pictures and gathering reference information for future paintings.
“At some point in the day, I sit down and write my diary for the day,” Farris said. “At night, I go down to the lodge and post my blog online. I talk to my wife on Skype. Then I head back to the Grotto and either paint late, or go to bed.”
Apart from the opportunity to paint in Zion, Farris said the payoff comes in the prestige of being selected Zion’s artist‐in‐residence.
“It’s like getting a gold star in class; it’s an experience that opens doors,” he said. “I don’t know how many doors will open or which ones will open, but when you tell people you’re the artist‐inresidence at Zion National Park, it makes people sit up and take notice.”
A few other artistic appointments — such as a resident artist slot at Yellowstone, Yosemite or Grand Canyon national parks — might rival this one, Farris acknowledged, but he added, “This one is very prestigious. It’s a huge leap forward in terms of legitimacy.”
Leslie Courtright, Zion museum curator, said she is grateful for the support of Reece Summers, director and curator of SUU’s Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, and students in the university’s Master of Fine Arts program in arts administration.
“SUU’s support has been very helpful, especially in terms of networking,” Courtright said. “The university offered a professional artist network that allowed us to connect with a wider field of applicants for this position.”
In addition, two graduate students — Leslie Forrester and Grant Adams — provided logistical support.
“We wanted to do this right,” Forrester said. “We wanted to set up the framework so that the program will last several more years.”
Adams said the next step is to bring in a new artist‐in‐residence in April.
Without SUU’s help, Courtright said, the program would not approach its current level of quality.
In addition to the graduate students’ logistical support, faculty from SUU’s College of Performing and Visual Arts screen artists’ applications and forward recommendations to Zion National Park. The successful candidate for each artist‐in‐residence slot is selected by park personnel.
university’s Alliance for Education with Zion National Park,” said Wes Curtis, SUU Vice President for Government Relations and Regional Services. “There are so many positive opportunities for the park and the university to interact and benefit from one another.”
Additional information about Farris’ experience at Zion National Park is available at his Web site, farrisart.com, which includes a daily blog and pictures.