THE ACCOMPANYING reproductions are of artwork done by several AAC members who displayed at the Annual Meeting in Seattle in December 1983. The paintings and sketches adorned the walls of the main program room and thus provided a fitting backdrop for the fine opening talk by Bill Napier of Boulder, Colorado. Bill, a climber and artist with a degree in art history, presented a well-illustrated program, “Peaks and Painters,” which was one of the meeting highlights and somewhat unique to AAC meetings. His talk and slides resulted from considerable travel and research into mountain art both here and abroad and covered early Oriental and European art that included mountain backgrounds, the paralleling growth of alpinism and mountain painting, and the development and styles of some of the American artists from the mid- 1800 s through the present day.
Napier made several observations of the development of mountain art. The early mountain painters of Europe often lacked personal knowledge of the form, texture, and color of mountains and their mantles of snow, ice and glaciers. They often depicted the mountains as harsh and intimidating places, not for the likes of men, and mountain features were either exaggerated or illogically drawn. As alpinism grew, some of the English gentlemen-climbers included artists in their parties, and gradually more accurate portrayals were obtained of the peaks and glaciers. Edward Whymper is an example of an observant artist on assignment to sketch the Alps, who subsequently became more famous as a mountaineer. But the development of photography as a means of bringing the Alps closer to home probably contributed to a decline in detailed mountain paintings. Cameras with color film in the hands of mountaineering professionals who now travel to distant ranges the world over has given us an abundance of impressively illustrated books in coffee-table format. But there is still an abundance of subject matter for the imaginative mountain artist and for a variety of art styles—Mother Nature continues to provide every-changing patterns of light, color and texture in the clouds, walls and rocks, snow, ice, and glacier flow, and in the movements of the climber within or as a dominant theme of the scene.
It is most appropriate to have had Bill Napier’s comments on alpine art and to bring into focus the close tie between the aesthetics of the mountain scene and the more physical aspects of climbing.