mary jane colter: mesa verde national park

The most culturally powerful structure that Mary Colter, the most influential architect at Grand Canyon National Park, designed on the rim of the Canyon was the Watchtower at Desert View. The 70-foot tall structure was a “re-creation” of many of the Native Indian towers that can still be found in the Four Corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Mesa Verde 079Square Tower at MVNP

Mary took six months to travel to remote towers to study their construction techniques and materials closely. Utlimately, Mary chose Mesa Verde National Park’s Round Tower in Cliff Palace as the direct inspiration for the form and proportions of her Watchtower.

Mesa Verde 031the Round Tower at MVNP ( just left of center)

They say that writers stand on the shoulders of writers that have come before them. I agree. I believe the same idea holds true for other creative efforts. And in the case of the Watchtower, Mary stood unabashedly on the shoulders of the Native Indian builders who came before her to create something beautiful and meaningful.

Mesa Verde 028Cliff Palace

The Watchtower at Desert View at Grand Canyon National Park officially opened on May 13, 1933. It is a wonder.

clyfford still

The only reason I’m writing about Clyfford Still is so that I can post these pictures of his art on my site:

Clifford Still 008


Clifford Still 010

Pretty great, huh?

I just returned from visiting the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

Here’s the deal: Clyfford was born in North Dakota and lived there for about a year but spent his childhood in Spokane, Washington and Bow Island in southern Alberta, Canada.  But for the rest of his life he was referred to as a North Dakotan, as in, “the reclusive North Dakota artist” even though he lived in a variety of places. The lesson: be careful about where you decide to be born.

Anyway, Clyfford was one of the foremost creators of Abstract Expressionism. For a while he taught in San Francisco, Washington, Virginia. At one point, he threw a fit and refused to participate in the art world. The CSM has a nice biography about Clyfford Still if you want more details.

But here’s the best part. You know you’ve arrived when your widow offers your nearly entire prolific output to any U.S. city that would give it a home and several cities vie for that right.

Well, Denver won and rose to the occasion. And the result is amazing. Go stare at the beautiful building they created to showcase his art. Wander its corridors and imagine what it would be like to live or work there. Stare wide-souled at Clyfford’s masterpieces. Resist the urge to lick the paintings.

Alas, there are no picture book biographies about Clyfford Still, but there is a dazzling puzzle based on his work that I would someday like to call my very own. However, if you would like to read a picture book biography about another abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock, check out “Action Jackson” by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.