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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

Painting the Past | Election Results

An Artistic Adventure

Following the trail of Lewis and Clark with paintbrush in hand and history in mind

by Jennifer Hattam

Even though the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark's expedition is still three years off, the epic adventure has already captured the imaginations of the hundreds of thousands who read Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage or tuned in to watch Ken Burns' PBS documentary.

For Kenneth Holder, a Sierra Club member and artist from Bloomington, Illinois, just learning about the Corps of Discovery's journey wasn't enough: He wanted to experience it for himself. In the summer of 1996, Holder and his wife, Jan, made their first pilgrimage-down to the Missouri River, which they followed halfway across Missouri-and were immediately hooked. The next spring, they flew to Portland and went by boat to Lewiston, Idaho, up the
Columbia and Snake rivers-which Lewis and Clark traversed in the opposite direction in October 1805. A few months later, they returned to Missouri and drove back to Lewiston along the river, essentially traveling Lewis and Clark's entire route.

"Ken is a perfect example of why the Sierra Club wants to protect these lands," says Julia Reitan, the Club's director of volunteer and activist services. "We want people to continue to be as inspired by them as Lewis and Clark were."

During his travels, Holder, a professor emeritus at Illinois State University, painted what he saw. He painted the vast prairies and rugged mountains that seemed to have changed little in the last 200 years-and the bridges, dams, and roads that now mar the landscape. "I was always trying to compare what I saw to what Lewis and Clark might have seen," says Holder, who read many accounts of the expedition to deepen his knowledge of the area and its history. "There's a real connection when you know you're standing on the spot where their adventures took place."

Over the last three years of exploring and interpreting the lands of Lewis and Clark, Holder produced close to 500 watercolors, including sketchbook studies and larger, more refined works.

"I don't think I knew what I was getting into when I started," he says. For Holder, who grew up in the Southwest, the trips were an opportunity to explore new terrain, both literally and artistically.

"For me, the landscape of the Southwest has always been aggressively physical and immediate; it's about the hostile, tactile energy of the rocks, cacti, sand, heat, and wind," Holder says. "There's a more meditative calm in the Lewis and Clark trail paintings, a panoramic experience of the spread of the landscape and the big sky."

Through exhibiting his "Lewis and Clark Trail Project," Holder hopes to spark interest in the story of the two explorers and the enduring value of the lands they documented. The Sierra Club hopes to achieve a similar goal with its five-year campaign to protect wildlands in eight of the states along the Corps of Discovery's route. As part of the campaign, local and national outings leaders will organize day hikes, bike trips, and canoe floats into Lewis and Clark country.

"We want people to see what's been lost and see what's left," says Sierra Club Northern Plains Deputy Field Organizer Larry Mehlhaff. "That way they'll recognize what special places these are and try to protect them."

For more information on the Sierra Club's campaign to protect significant wild places in Lewis and Clark territory, see "Core of Discovery" (May/June 2000), call 1-800-OUR-LAND, or visit our Web site at

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