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ORIGINS OF THE NATURE MOVEMENT
1                             The nature preservation movement is based on the belief that we should respect the natural environment and work to protect it for others to enjoy. The movement had its origins in a nineteenth–century geological study of the American West. In 1871 the director of the United States Geological Survey invited a painter named Thomas Moran to join a government expedition that would explore the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. At that time, Yellowstone was largely unknown except for the tales of mysterious mud lakes and geysers. Moran’s role in the expedition was funded partly by the Northern Pacific Railroad, whose directors thought that an artist’s images of Yellowstone might help create a new tourist destination. Besides Moran, the expedition included a photographer who provided an objective record of Yellowstone’s geothermal wonders. Moran’s watercolors supplied the color the photographs could not, and the photographs confirmed the reality of Moran’s strange sketches of geysers and steaming lakes.

2                           The expedition was the turning point in Thomas Moran’s career. Lacking formal training, he was essentially self–taught, spending his early career copying the works of English landscape painters. Then the expedition allowed the artist to combine his personal vision with his public role as educator of a national audience. His watercolors of Yellowstone portrayed its glorious features in a way that increased their emotional impact. Yet in the majestic Western landscape there were some scenes that neither a photograph nor a watercolor could adequately convey. One of these was the view down into the deep chasm of the Yellowstone River, toward the waterfall. As soon as Moran returned east, he painted the scene in oil from memory and imagination on an eight–by–fourteen–foot canvas. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone became the first landscape by an American artist ever bought by the U.S. government.

3                            Meanwhile, the expedition leader and the railroad had been lobbying Congress to set aside Yellowstone as a national park. To prove Yellowstone’s uniqueness and beauty, Moran’s watercolor sketches were displayed in the U.S. Capitol. In 1872, President Grant signed a law preserving the whole Yellowstone area, thirty–five hundred square miles, as the world’s first national park. Artists rarely have such an immediate impact on the political process, and the accomplishment is a tribute to the passion of Moran’s vision.

4                            Another person who influenced the public’s perception of nature was the Canadian wildlife artist and writer Ernest Thompson Seton. During his long life as a naturalist, explorer, and educator, Seton promoted the idea that nature is something to be respected and preserved. He was a fascinating storyteller who wrote and illustrated over 60 books and several hundred articles and short stories.

5                            Seton was born in England in 1860 and immigrated to Canada at the age of six. Active in art from an early age, at twenty–one he joined two older brothers on their farm in Manitoba, Canada. Seton was always interested in his natural surroundings and devoted much of his time to studying and drawing wild animals, sometimes counting every feather on the wing of a bird. Self–trained as a biologist, he started out as a naturalist and scientific illustrator for the government of Manitoba. Around the same time, he began writing as well. One of Seton’s most popular and dramatic wilderness stories, “Lobo,” told of his hunt for a legendary gray wolf in New Mexico. The story of Lobo was first published in a popular magazine, and later with other stories in book form as Wild Animals I Have Known. This book has never been out of print since it first appeared in 1898. Seton also wrote a series of magazine articles that taught children about nature, camping, hiking, and woodcraft. As a key figure in the woodcraft movement and in the early history of the Boy Scouts of America, Seton inspired thousands of children to appreciate the natural world.

6                            The enduring message of both Thomas Moran and Ernest Thompson Seton was that nature is beautiful, noble, and deserving of our respect and protection. They believed that people should become close with nature and educate others about it. The remarkable extent to which we have become a society of nature lovers can be attributed to their vision and influence.

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