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Artists Attempt to Capture Grand Canyon Grandeur

Artist Linda Glover Gooch begins work on one of her paintings on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, Oct 2010

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States has long been an attraction for painters and photographers, as well. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado river, in northern Arizona, is so vast and so deep that it challenges the skill of artists to represent even a small portion of its grandeur and beauty. Many artists continue to use the landscape and atmosphere of the canyon for their inspiration.

This is the starting point for Linda Glover Gooch, on a clear morning on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It begins with some basic brush strokes. Little by little, the image starts to form.

Of course, thousands of tourists come here every day taking photographs that they hope will capture some of the canyon's splendor.

So Gooch could have just used a photograph of the canyon and stayed back in her Tempe, Arizona studio. But she said that would not be the same.

"There is a huge difference because you are in the atmosphere, you feel the air. Photos are nice, but they still lose some of the feeling that is out there. You experience it firsthand, so your emotions are there at the same time that you are doing the work," said Gooch.

This is what artists call "plein air painting," in which the environment and changing light affect the mood and tone of the work.

Grand Canyon Park Ranger Scott Kraynak says this is the method best suited to the site. "It is painting quickly in nature to capture fleeting moments, the light."

Every year, the National Park invites artists here to produce paintings that will later be sold - to help finance the building of a gallery on the south rim for contemporary paintings and many older works - through which, Kraynak said many people first came to know the canyon.

"Not many people realize the importance of art in the national parks," said Kraynak. "Art first gave people a glimpse of what these areas looked like in the West, before TV and Internet. Art was a big factor in these areas being set aside; art was a big factor in popularizing national parks."

The works of Gooch are on display in many southwestern venues, like the Lawrence Gallery in upscale Scottsdale, Arizona. Her paintings provide glimpses of nature and the desert landscape to collectors who want to take some of the beauty home with them.

Creating those paintings, out in nature, is her life's work. "I want to get the light on that point because it is only going to be there for an hour more, maybe or a little less. It looks really bright."

Producing this one small painting by the Grand Canyon is a daylong affair for Gooch, but she said there is nowhere else that she would rather be. "Words cannot explain it. It is just a gorgeous place. It is challenging. It is always changing. The weather is never the same. It gives you a lot of views. You could paint the rest of your life out here and always see something different.

In the end, her vision of this one spot in the canyon is complete and ready for showing. But the light is always changing, the scene is always shifting and the canyon beckons her to return to paint again another day.