Engraving Yellowstone

Hayden Survey members shoot waterfowl on Yellowstone Lake in 1871. Illustration by Thomas Moran.

Hayden Survey members shoot waterfowl on Yellowstone Lake in 1871. Illustration by Thomas Moran.

Before photos could be reprinted in magazines, artists had to come up with a different way to share the park’s scenery with the masses.

In the summer of 1872, Picturesque America published the article “Our Great National Park.” It was a poetic narrative introducing the country to the wonders of the newly created Yellowstone National Park, established by an act of Congress on March 1 of that year. The article boasted that Yellowstone exhibited “the grand and magnificent in its snow-capped mountains and dark cañons [sic], the picturesque in its splendid water-falls and strangely formed rocks, the beautiful in the sylvan shore of its noble lake, and the phenomenal in its geysers, hot springs, and mountains of sulphur.”

Famed photographer William Henry Jackson thoroughly documented Yellowstone’s iconic landmarks as a member of the 1871 Hayden Geological Survey. A process for reproducing photography—a relatively new medium at the time—in print for mass distribution was virtually nonexistent, though. Artists, including landscape painter Thomas Moran and New York-based illustrator Henry Fenn, had to reproduce Jackson’s Yellowstone photographs in detailed black-and-white drawings. They then had to turn their work over to an engraver.

An artistic medium in and of itself (an engraver’s signature often appeared on a printed illustration alongside that of the artist), engraving involved meticulously carving an image into a flat, smooth piece of wood. Once finished—a single engraving could take weeks—these blocks were inserted into a printing press, pressed in ink, and then, finally, stamped onto paper. We didn’t stamp these engravings onto the following pages, but that doesn’t make them any less artistic.

While illustrators such as Henry Fenn made great efforts to preserve detail when reproducing photography, they also took liberties, the results of which were sometimes comical. Here, Fenn inserted a figure fleeing an erupting Giant Geyser, the cone of which appears to be much larger than its actual height of about twelve feet. Unlike Moran, Fenn had not visited Yellowstone at the time he was reproducing Jackson’s photographs and therefore did not have firsthand experience with the environment.

While illustrators such as Henry Fenn made great efforts to preserve detail when reproducing photography, they also took liberties, the results of which were sometimes comical. Here, Fenn inserted a figure fleeing an erupting Giant Geyser, the cone of which appears to be much larger than its actual height of about twelve feet. Unlike Moran, Fenn had not visited Yellowstone at the time he was reproducing Jackson’s photographs and therefore did not have firsthand experience with the environment.

Thomas Moran’s depiction of Tower Fall, formerly Tower Falls, closely resembles W.H. Jackson’s photograph of the waterfall from its base. Moran added storm clouds and streaming light for dramatic effect.

Thomas Moran’s depiction of Tower Fall, formerly Tower Falls, closely resembles W.H. Jackson’s photograph of the waterfall from its base. Moran added storm clouds and streaming light for dramatic effect.

The base of the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River was not photographed in 1871. It is likely that artist Moran visited the location at the time and created this illustration from his sketches.

The base of the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River was not photographed in 1871. It is likely that artist Moran visited the location at the time and created this illustration from his sketches.

Moran’s illustration of Anna, the first boat on Yellowstone Lake, is a composite of two 1871 W.H. Jackson photographs. Moran likely did this to give the viewer a sense of perspective of the largest body of water above 7,000 feet in the Lower 48 states.

Moran’s illustration of Anna, the first boat on Yellowstone Lake, is a composite of two 1871 W.H. Jackson photographs. Moran likely did this to give the viewer a sense of perspective of the largest body of water above 7,000 feet in the Lower 48 states.

Moran took liberties with his illustration of figures exploring Jupiter Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs. He often served as a subject in many of Jackson’s 1871 photographs at Mammoth.

Moran took liberties with his illustration of figures exploring Jupiter Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs. He often served as a subject in many of Jackson’s 1871 photographs at Mammoth.

 

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