The Plateaus and Canyonlands region is home to some of the finest examples of prehistoric rock art in North America. For thousands of years, artists saw the sun-baked canyon walls of the Pecos, Devils, Rio Grande, and other rivers as vast canvasses on which to create compelling imagery in vivid hues of red, yellow, black, and white. Now only faintly visible on bluffs and in shelters high above the canyon floors, the enigmatic rock art provides fleeting glimpses into the worldview of ancient peoples.
In addition to canyon walls, Lower Pecos people also painted flat river pebbles, creating a type of “portable art” that perhaps could be carried from place to place. On the Edwards Plateau, prehistoric artists also used flat pebbles as canvasses, engraving intricate geometric designs into the stone. By viewing the fascinating remains of the expressive cultures developed by peoples of the Plateaus and Canyonlands region thousands of years ago, we gain a better understanding of art, not only as a means of human interpretation of the world but also as a tool for human adaptation, communication, and survival.
The Artistic Expression exhibit provides four different opportunities to learn about ancient art. In the first section, On the Trail of Lower Pecos Rock Art, viewers can examine the meticulous watercolor renderings of Lower Pecos rock art painted by illustrator Forrest Kirkland in the 1930s. His heroic effort to capture these fading expressions on stone resulted in hundreds of images, offered here in a suite of “online galleries.” Viewers may zoom in on each panel to examine specific detail or explore the rendering in wide view. There is also biographical information on Kirkland and an overview of Rock Art styles.
A special interactive section for kids, Pictographs on Parade, allows younger viewers to explore rock art from Painted Rock Shelter, a panel filled with exciting images of animals and people. The shelter art, threatened today by floodwaters, has been documented in photographs by the staff of Rupestrian Cybersonics as well as in a Kirkland watercolor rendering some 75 years earlier, allowing us to see close-up the effects of natural forces on this fragile medium.
Viewers are also directed to the Lower PecosRock Art exhibit section to learn more about the different sites in the region, and to the Mysterious Stones section of the Kincaid Shelter exhibit to view examples of stone engravings.