NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Alyssa DeLaBruere, a teaching artist and activist based out of Vermont, is acutely aware of the grave dangers the United States’ national parks and monuments face under the current administration. Deregulating these treasured lands and allowing oil and coal exploration and commercial development will likely permanently alter the land historically protected for beauty, wildlife habitat and cultural heritage. Following the path of other American artist-conservationists, like photographer Ansel Adams and painter Thomas Morin, Ms. DeLaBruere founded Postcards from the Parks (PFP) in March 2017. The project promotes awareness, appreciation, action and protection of the national parks and monuments through art created from three 40-day great American road trips to over 50 parks and monuments.
With easel, paint brushes, and tent packed in her SUV, she headed to Badlands National Park in South Dakota in March 2017. Then she made her way to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, stopping at 13 other parks and monuments in between. This April, she plans to hit the road again, visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona and California’s Joshua Tree and Yosemite national parks, in addition to nine more. Her work focuses on sharing visuals stories from her travels in the form of plein-air paintings (many created from the same locations as the works of Adams and Morin), sketches, mixed media works, and thousands of photographs, in addition to the daily “Field Notes from the Parks” on the PFP website.
The collection is displayed on the website’s gallery, and upon project completion, Ms. DeLaBruere plans for the works to tour at university art museums and galleries throughout the United States. Her works from the first trip were shown at Fleming Gallery at the American School in England (TASIS) from February 26th to March 10th. After her last trip, scheduled for the autumn of this year, Ms. DeLaBruere plans to collect her works, photographs, and writings into a commemorative book, the proceeds from which, in addition to eventual sales of painting prints and postcards, will benefit the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club.
Though she says she was never much of a camper, she journeyed last spring after tackling issues like lack of funds, a heavy work schedule, her role as a single parent to three children in college, plus the fact that she was a lone woman traveling cross-country.
What she encountered on her trip restored her belief in human nature, that people of all races, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations and ages can come together for a common purpose. Describing the trip, she remarked, “This America doesn’t need to be made great again, it already is and has been all along.”
She had encouraging and thought-provoking conversations with park rangers about why they chose that occupation and their thoughts on the parks’ future from both ends of the spectrum. A veteran ranger from Yellowstone National Park with 30 years on the job voiced grave concerns about the drastic effects of climate change on the land and the current “corrupt administration.” Just down the road, a rookie ranger from Grand Teton National Park, also in Wyoming, fresh from college and still wearing proverbial rose-colored glasses, believed that she might single-handedly save the parks.
For locals in the areas surrounding the parks, there is even more at stake—their livelihood. Many tiny towns like Escalante, Utah are thriving meccas for tourists and adventurers exploring the parks, and the local economy centers around the visitors, creating caches of equipment rentals, inns, camping sites, guided tours, and mom and pop restaurants. The residents of these towns are all well-informed, passionate, and keen to discuss the pressing issues, their greatest question being who has the power to make decisions regarding the protection of the parks and their way of life. She found their passion and hope was, in part, inspired by “outsiders like [her] voicing their support, donating funds, making trips out to visit, and supporting the cause and the economy.” These conversations helped bolster her belief that PFP could make a real difference in these people’s lives.
However, it was the average American tourists that inspired Ms. DeLaBruere the most. Interacting with hundreds of people, representing every state and many countries, she found that, although they all began as strangers, something about sharing the experience of the landscape—the incredulity of the sheer vastness and the intimate moments of a bird perched on a rock or the gnarled twist of a fallen branch—brought them together. This “tribe mentality” characterized Ms. DeLaBruere’s fondest memory from her first trip.
On her second day at Arches National Park in Utah, the access road to the outlook for Delicate Arch, one of the Parks most renowned sights, was closed due to flooding. The only path to the arch was by way of the hiking trail; considered a difficult hike of two miles each way and a 500-foot shift in elevation over loose gravel, slick rock, and cliff ledges, many tourists shrank back in premature defeat. In a surprising turn, the seasoned hikers, rather than blindly pushing through the crowd, began to encourage the onlookers, offering advice, spare water bottles, and trekking poles. Soon the entire crowd began their pilgrimage to Delicate Arch, and despite the slow pace, they all arrived at the finish line with an eruption of cheers and shared embraces. Once there, Ms. DeLaBruere sat and drew for a couple hours, inspired by the long-awaited vista of Delicate Arch and the camaraderie of her fellow tourists.
As she gets prepared for her next adventure, starting April 23, Ms. DeLaBruere has been holding gallery talks and workshops with students and faculty in the Fleming Gallery at TASIS England to share the project’s trajectory and will be at Yale University on April 19 as a guest lecturer to promote awareness for the parks through an interactive exhibit and workshop. As she gets ready to head out for her next trip she said she was most excited to visit Yosemite National Park, in which Ansel Adams produced his most famous works that were instrumental in Yosemite receiving its designation as a national park. A long, winding, fascinating road surely awaits.
Amy DeLaBruere is a freshman at Yale University studying English with a concentration in creative writing. She is a published poet, art history buff and baking enthusiast originally from Newport, Vermont; Alyssa is her mother.
Photos: 1) Ms. DeLaBruere at Lower Falls, Yellowstone; 2) “Cairns, Reflections from the Trail” 3) “Raven”; 4) Colorado River looking Towards Arches”