MOAB, Utah — Beginning in the last week of February through May 2023, Utah State University Moab and USU Blanding are hosting the exhibit Sentinels, an art and science project created by printmakers Todd Anderson and Bruce Crownover and social ecologist Gary Machlis.
The collaborative exhibit demonstrates the migration of piñon pine and juniper trees as a result of increased dryness in the American Southwest, as studied in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
The idea for the exhibit started when Anderson found research papers detailing climate change and environment in the southwest, including Southeast Utah. Having spent the last dozen years working on artwork detailing the current climate crisis, Anderson saw this as another opportunity to bring awareness through art.
“I use a key question to guide my artwork: How can my artwork help with the climate crisis?” said Anderson. “I am trying to draw attention to some of these issues and show the facts to the general population. As an artist, I can show how beautiful and amazing these trees are and bring awareness to a widespread audience. I am trying my best to interpret and show the beauty of these trees and have that be a starting point for a larger conversation.”
Anderson previously worked with Crownover as both created a book about Glacier National Park and the shrinking glaciers there. Years later, Anderson invited Crownover to visit Southeast Utah, a place Crownover was already familiar with, having spent many summers near Grover, Utah, at a family ranch.
“For me, it was an invitation to go back to a place that I spent a lot of time as a kid,” Crownover said. “As a kid, I spent a lot of time roaming around Boulder Mountain and playing outside. I hadn’t been there since I was 16 years old. I am now in my 60s and I wanted to go back and see it. I was so immediately comforted by the place — it’s in my DNA. I felt very at home there and I was very keen on making some artistic record of what was happening to this place that I love.”
The two artists made sketches, paintings and took photographs of the landscape, trying to capture the piñon pine and juniper trees in as many ways as they could. They would return to their home studios to create wood prints of the landscapes.
Anderson then invited Machlis, his colleague at Clemson University, to join him in another visit to the area. Machlis, who specializes in research on conservation and sustainability, brought a scientific viewpoint to the artistic exhibit. Machlis began writing notes around the campfire and developed three different written “word paintings” of the area.
The first was a fictitious science article set in the 1970s. The second was a mock journal entry of the trip, written in the style of an 1880s travel journal. The final piece was an imagined newspaper editorial from the 1950s.
“It was a wonderful collaboration,” Machlis said. “I worked collaboratively with Todd to design the pieces to reflect these themes. These are extraordinary landscapes, ecosystems, and sacred places — and we wanted to share with the communities of Southeast Utah how we responded to the privilege of visiting.”
These word paintings, together with woodcut prints from Anderson and Crownover, were gathered together in a collection that was published as Sentinels: The Piñon Pine and Juniper Trees of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, Utah. The exhibit is four years in the making. The artists hope that their representations will be the beginning of a conversation about conservation.
“As an artist, I try to draw people to look at my work and then to reflect on why it is important,” Crownover said. “I try to show them this is a serious subject that is housed in a pretty picture.”
The Sentinels exhibit will be housed with different pieces at USU Moab and USU Blanding from late February through May 2023. Both campuses will host an exhibit opening reception with the artists that is open to the public, with a brief presentation by the artists. The opening reception at USU Blanding will be on March 1, while the open house at USU Moab will be on March 3.
“I hope people enjoy the exhibit,” Anderson said. “I am excited to come to Utah and meet the people at USU and meet students from different high schools in the area.”
University Marketing and Communications
Senior Associate Vice President
Utah State University Blanding & Moab
Associate Vice President
TOPICSStatewide Campuses 323stories Arts 219stories Climate 147stories
Comments and questions regarding this article may be directed to the contact person listed on this page.