Celebrating 100 Years with an Epic Book: 59 Illustrated National Parks

How do you describe a family road trip in a 1998 RV that smells like moth balls? Amazing. That’s the word Joel Anderson used to remember the journey he took from Nashville to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Petrified Forest National Parks with his wife and four kids in tow. The RV “Large Marge” provided safe transportation and many laughs, but the parks provided the true inspiration. It’s where the Andersons connected with each other while celebrating this epic feat: a complete series of National Park poster art.

© 2010 Anderson Design Group. All rights reserved.

After more than five years of work, Anderson and his design team were proud creators of vintage styled artwork showcasing the natural wonders of our world. As founder and art director of Anderson Design Group, Inc., Anderson was enjoying what so many American families have treasured since the founding of the National Park Service nearly 100 years ago. You see, in August 2016, the parks are turning 100 and this creative team was on a mission to craft the perfect birthday present.

Imagine a 160-page birthday card that not only includes beautiful posters of the national parks, but also rich paintings and stories about each park. Can you imagine it? Well, it exists in the form of 59 Illustrated National Parks: 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, a coffee table book published to celebrate 100 years of wilderness and wonder.

This poster features the painting of artist Kai Carpenter. © 2015 Anderson Design Group, inc. All rights reserved.

When Anderson set out on his road trip adventure, he and his son Nathan were also working on the book that showcases some of the 70+ original posters designed by the firm, as well as oil paintings by Kai Carpenter. The book is a culmination of years of work and direction, with Anderson acting like the conductor of a chamber orchestra that included a number of artists with talents from writing to painting and digital illustration.

Nathan and Joel Anderson displaying the 59 Illustrated National Parks coffee table book
Nathan and Joel Anderson displaying the 59 Illustrated National Parks coffee table book
Joel Anderson explaining the creative process behind the book.

So why create an illustrated National Parks book?

As we began this quest, we had a chance to sit down with Joel and Nathan of the Anderson Design Group in their Nashville studio to ask them in person. What followed was a conversation that inspired us immensely, complete with a chance to see some of the featured posters and paintings in person. The collection is truly impressive.

…realize the efforts of many people who came together throughout the decades to advocate for parks.

The Backstory

This story really begins back in 1872, when Yellowstone National Park was established. That’s exactly how the book opens, taking readers to a time when folks thought those geysers were a myth and herds of bison were sadly massacred. Author Nathan Anderson weaves a tale that frames a true American story, one that set the stage for 59 natural National Parks and hundreds of other national protected sites. By the 1930s, Congress enacted the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to support those suffering through the Great Depression, including a group of artists. These artists were commissioned to design National Park posters inviting Americans out to their shared public parks, and over the years these posters were nearly forgotten. Nearly, not completely.

Read the book for the full tale, but trust that many of these posters survived and a few decades later Joel Anderson stood with Nathan in the visitor’s center of Yellowstone National Park. The WPA print he saw there resonated with him instantly, and sparked a journey that has led to this celebration of America’s best idea. The Anderson Design Group’s posters embody a vintage aesthetic, relying on striking, simplistic illustration to depict scenes that are often so complex. Below is one example of a Yellowstone poster designed to monumentalize a moment that strikes awe in all viewers.

The firm already had a vast collection of artwork celebrating American heritage, particularly local love of place with works like the Spirit of Nashville collection. Anderson saw the emotional connection folks had for parks and wanted to support this with posters commemorating places that often have no words to describe.

© Anderson Design Group. All rights reserved.
© 2010 Anderson Design Group and Spirit of Nashville. All rights reserved.
© 2010 Anderson Design Group. All rights reserved.
A collection of work by the Anderson Design Group.
You can discover crafted keepsakes of the National Parks in the studio’s Nashville shop or online.

The National Parks are an incredible opportunity for every American – you don’t need to be a social elite.

With the Centennial of the National Park Service around the corner, it only seemed fitting to create a masterpiece capturing the years of park posters. Most of all, the book is a way to foster that love of parks through storytelling.

Whether you use it to remember a grand trip, to learn something new about our parks, or give as a keepsake to a loved one, the book was designed to express what many artists set out to do. To translate what we feel into words and images that keep us connected to the things we love. Whether it’s a specific scene or a brief moment with a family member.

Detail of a painting by Kai Carpenter.

How was the book created?

Joel Anderson worked with his all-star design team to carefully curate their collection of posters and paintings, while Nathan headed up the writing. He spent days researching each park, drawing from direct conversations with rangers and visits to parks in an effort to paint a compelling story for each park. But there’s more. While each park is featured through art and tales of its history, they are also represented by tips on when to visit, what to see, and other practical information. So the book can follow you on a road trip and help plan a journey. Just don’t drop this treasure off Half Dome or down Yellowstone Falls!

Imagine seeing this dramatic scene at Katmai. © 2015 Anderson Design Group, inc. All rights reserved.

The Outcome of this Book Project

As one can imagine, the Anderson team learned a number of lessons along their National Park book journey. One lesson is to take time to enjoy. We shouldn’t take these places for granted, but realize the efforts of many people who came together throughout the decades to advocate for parks. Art showcases the parks and honors the results of people who loved the places we cherish today. We can reflect on these things when we visit parks.

Which leads to the challenge: what does the future hold for our parks? The artists behind the Anderson Design Group have given the national parks a gift that invites every visitor to enjoy the parks, and also think about our role as stewards of these places.

You can find this book online on the firm’s website, or in most National Park visitor centers. And if you love a particular poster or two in the book, you can purchase the print online or at their local studio in Nashville. We invite you to browse through the diverse collection of these storytellers.

You’ll surely leave inspired!

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