Speaker Series

The 2019 Escalante Canyons Art Festival Speaker Series is provided in partnership with the USU Center for Colorado River Studies, Glen Canyon Conservancy, and Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners.

Paula L. McNeill: Partners in Art – the Art of Bradley C. Spencer and Ruthanne Oliver

LOCATION: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center
September 27 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

Paula L. McNeill will discuss the art and lives of the 2019 Featured Artists, Escalante native and painter Bradley C. Spencer and self-taught Western fiber artist Ruthanne Oliver.  This presentation will focus on how the flora, fauna, and magnificent, often mysterious, landscape and light of southern Utah informs and inspires their work.

McNeill is a retired art professor who divides her time between Valdosta, Georgia where she was on the art faculty at Valdosta State University and summers in Escalante, Utah where her family has had a summer home since 1980.  A Southerner by birth, McNeill received her BA in Art from Arizona State University-Tempe; her MA from the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque; and her Ph. D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  With an interest in community-based art, for more than fifteen years McNeill has documented the art and lives of visual artists in southern Utah through video-taped oral history interviews. 

2019 Featured Artists:

Bradley C. Spencer, Escalante, UT

Bradley started painting about twelve years ago. He is, for the most part, a self-taught artist, though he has taken workshops from Oklahoma painter and teacher on Jerry Yarnell’s PBS TV program “Paint This” where one can do a painting in one sitting at your personal level.  Spencer has also studied with Doug Braithwaite in Driggs, Idaho, Stephen Stauffer and R. Gregory Summers who helped him understand how to mix primary colors and use the four color palette he now uses.  Brad has also been inspired by Cedar City painter Brad Holt for Holt’s simpler plein air style without too much detail.  When Spencer was younger, he spent a lot of time doing woodworking, but is presently concentrating on painting with a limited palette in oils. He lives and works in his studio in Escalante, Utah.

Bradley has had several two-person shows at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder, Utah and Red Canyon Visitor’s Center. He also competes each year in the Escalante Canyons Art Festival Plein Air Competition and Wild Rivers New Mexico Plein Air Paint Out.



Ruthanne Oliver, Escalante, UT

Ruthanne began doing applique work for customers and boutiques in Southern Texas in the 1970s. She studied at Pan Am College, Texas and Texas A & I, but is basically a self-taught artist. Her interest shifted to the Fine Arts in about 1978 and she began studying drawing, painting and composition. Always attracted to the textures of fabric and stitching she was inspired to use her applique technique as an art form.

Ruthanne’s work is in both national and international private and public collections and she has won numerous awards for her art.  Recently she has been experimenting with alcohol inks and won the First Place Experimental Award in 2018 at the Wild Rivers Paint Out in Questa, New Mexico for Basalt, painted near the Rio Grande Gorge  outside Taos, New Mexico.  She has exhibited at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder, Utah, Red Canyon Visitor’s Center and numerous other locations throughout the U.S.  In 2019 she exhibited her 12 inches by 12 inches quilted and appliqued cloth book pages from Eryn’s Search at the Initial Point Gallery in Meridian, Idaho.  , Eryn’s Search is a loosely autobiographical children’s book about Eryn who searches for her roots in Ireland.  The most rewarding part of her career has been teaching art at Escalante Elementary School where she still  volunteers some arts and crafts classes.  

Ruthanne lives in Escalante, Utah and works in her Sun Spirit Studio where she creates appliqued and embroidered wall hangings, watercolor paintings and wearable art.  For the last four years Ruthanne has served as Chairperson of the Plein Air Competition for Escalante Canyons Art Festival.

James Swensen: ’As Grand and Unusual Sights as The Heart Could Desire’: An Exploration of John Wesley Powell’s Photographers

LOCATION: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center
September 27 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Fennemore Mukuntuweap Valley (Zion Canyon), Utah, American, April 1872

In 1871 John Wesley Powell returned to the Colorado Plateau. Two years earlier he and his intrepid crew made one of the most-daring expeditions in American history when they journeyed down the Green and Colorado Rivers, mostly sight-unseen. When he returned he came with a different purpose. The region was no longer the great unknown, but its sublime landscapes demanded extensive study and representation.  A crucial tool in this endeavor was photography. Powell employed three photographers throughout his explorations of the Southwest. The first was E.O. Beaman, who was followed by James Fennemore, and lastly, the oar-man turned photographer, John Hillers, who become one of the most important photographers of the American West. This presentation explores the work and careers of Powell’s photographers along the Colorado. It will, moreover, investigate their activities within the complicated dynamics of the expedition as well as they ways they attempted to capture and comprehend one of the most dramatic places on earth.

James R. Swensen is an associate professor of art history and the history of photography at Brigham Young University. His research interests include the art and photography of the American West. He is the author of several articles and two books including In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration (University of Utah Press). He is the recipient of the Butler Young Scholar Award from the Charles Redd Center for Western American Studies and the LeRoy Axland Best Utah History Article Award.

Heather Hansman: Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West

LOCATION: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center
September 28 @ 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

The Green River, the largest tributary of the Colorado River system, is crucial, overused, and at risk. Author Heather Hansman paddled the river from source to confluence and see what the experience might teach her about those risks. She’ll discuss her new book about the Green, “Downriver,” and talk about why it’s important to tell stories about place, natural resources, and human impact, and how books and literature can show how connected we are.

Heather Hansman, the author of the new book “Downriver”  is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Outside, California Sunday, Smithsonian, and many others. After a decade of raft guiding across the United States, she lives in Seattle.

Program sponsored by Utah State University’s Center for Colorado River Studies.

James M. Aton: The Crimson Cowboys: The Remarkable Odyssey of the 1931 Claflin-Emerson Expedition

LOCATION: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center
September 28 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

In 1931 a team of six archaeologists from Harvard’s Peabody Museum and three guides set out to do what no archaeologists had done before nor have tried since: explore, survey, and excavate Fremont Indian sites on the Tavaputs Plateau. Their 400-mile expedition is the longest horse-pack archaeological trip in the history of American archaeology. It should have been a highpoint in American archaeology, but it wasn’t. The report summarizing this and three previous years’ work south of the Tavaputs was never written. What should have been one of the greatest archaeological expeditions in American history was relegated to boxes and file folders hidden away in the Peabody Museum basement in Cambridge. Jerry Spangler’s and my book, The Crimson Cowboys, tells the story of this remarkable expedition and is the winner of the Don D. and Catherine S. Fowler Prize..

James M. Aton is a native of Louisville, KY and has been a professor of English at Southern Utah University since 1980. He is the author or coauthor of seven books on the artists, explorers, and rivers of the Colorado Plateau. He is an avid river runner and hiker.

Program sponsored by Utah State University’s Center for Colorado River Studies.

Jack Schmidt: The Future of the Colorado River

LOCATION: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center
September 28 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

photo credit: M Miller, USGS

Today’s decisions about the Colorado River’s future are of two types – those that concern allocation of a decreasing water supply that meets the needs of a growing population and those that concern environmental management of the river segments that intervene between reservoirs. Can these two types of decisions be jointly addressed? Geophysical science, including climate science, plays a large role in addressing water supply issues, and the geophysical and biological sciences are important foundations to programs that address endangered species and landscape rehabilitation issues, including those addressed by several adaptive management programs. Although the linkage between geophysical science and water supply decision-making is straightforward, the application of the natural sciences to adaptive management of rivers is challenged by the competing values of the many stakeholders who participate in these programs. Moving forward, scientists and river citizens have the opportunity to provide alternative strategies that prioritize where in the watershed lie the greatest opportunities in ecosystem rehabilitation, because the geography of runoff generation and water use creates rehabilitation opportunities in some parts of the watershed and severely limits opportunities elsewhere. Tradeoffs between water supply objectives and environmental objectives can only be explored if river citizens clearly articulate their objectives and goals.

Jack Schmidt is the Janet Quinney Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies and the Director of the Center for Colorado River Studies in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. For more than 30 years, he and his graduate students have studied the geomorphic processes and conditions of the Colorado River, especially in Grand Canyon and in national parts of the Green River. Jack served as Chief of the USGS/Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center between 2011 and 2014.

Program sponsored by Utah State University’s Center for Colorado River Studies.