Artist follows in footsteps of Thomas Moran and paints wild landscapes of US national parks for exhibition in Bolton

The Bolton News: James Naughton with his painting of the Tetons James Naughton with his painting of the Tetons

Last year, James Naughton embarked upon a remarkable journey across the American West, following in the footsteps of Bolton-born 19th century artist Thomas Moran. Now his work will hang alongside Moran’s in Bolton as part of an exhibition. Steven Thompson reports.

WHEN James Naughton’s exhibition opens at the start of March, it will mark the realisation of a dream 16 years in the making.

It was in 1998 that he first became fully aware of Thomas Moran, the Bolton painter who made his name in the US documenting the geysers, hot springs, canyons and cliffs of the now Yellowstone National Park.

Bolton Museum and Art Gallery had pulled out all the stops to keep one of Moran’s stunning land-scapes in this country, launching a massive fundraising campaign to buy Nearing Camp, Evening On The Upper Colorado River, Wyoming.

The £1.5 million artistic coup, which prevented the piece heading for auction in New York, brought the 19th century painter to back to the fore in Bolton — and the purchase had a particular impact on Mr Naughton.

He said: “I think I’d seen his work and admired it, but in terms of knowing his name, no, I hadn’t heard of him.

“The day I saw the painting for the first time in Bolton I was 27 and still in the process of trying to establish myself as a painter. It’s definitely safe to say I was inspired by the painting and the purchase.”

Fast forward more than a decade and Mr Naughton had developed an intriguing idea. He wanted to visit the Green River Cliffs and Yellowstone National Park and see for himself the sites that had such a dramatic effect on Moran’s life as a painter.

Mr Naughton, aged 42, who lives in Heaton with his wife Rachel and their 11-year-old son, Tom, approached the museum and art gallery, who were keen on the idea. He then put together a funding proposal which he sent to Arts Council England.

He said: “The idea was to visit the same places in Yellowstone as Moran and produce a body of work from those locations.

“He has been a big influence on my work. When the museum first got the painting, it was soon after I had left college. I was from Bolton and I loved his work.

“Having my work on display in my home town alongside Moran’s is a bit of a dream come true.”

With photographer and friend Andrew Hodgson, Mr Naughton visited the sites of Moran’s most iconic works in Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton range in the Grand Teton National Park.

The pair ended their two-week trip — which they undertook in a cramped all-American “RV” motorhome — at Green River, South Wyoming, the location of that first Moran painting Mr Naughton had seen as a young artist.

Back home in Bolton, Mr Naughton has set to work over the past nine months, transforming his sketches and memories from the trip into a comprehensive body of work.

He has, for the first time in his career, attempted works on a much larger scale, a process which will be demonstrated at the exhibition with fascinating stop-motion photography.

He also returned to Bolton University — he studied there when it was known as Bolton Institute — and has gone back to his first love of printmaking.

Mr Naughton has discovered a new technique developed in France — known as kitchen lithography — which uses tin foil and Coca Cola to produce dramatic prints of the American West.

This process will also be shown at the exhibition, with gallery staff hoping to inspire young artists.

Kirsty Haikney, who is co-ordinating the exhibition at the museum and art gallery, said: “People will really relate to the work because James is from Bolton. He’s a regular guy that any young artist could be. It will show them that something like this is attainable.

“It was such a big thing at the time when we bought the Moran and there was real excitement about Moran, but that can easily fade.

“It is great that this exhibition can keep some of that feeling bubbling away. It puts us back on the map and we’re really looking forward to it.”

BOLTON-BORN ARTIST WHO INSPIRED A NATION

  • Thomas Moran was born in 1837 in Bolton, Lancashire, to two handloom weavers.
  • The rapid industrialisation of 19th century England soon mechanised the weaving process and forced his parents out of their jobs.
  • The whole family moved to Kensington, Philadelphia, and, at the age of 16, Moran became an apprentice at a wood-engraving firm. It was here that he began to paint and draw.
  • In the early 1860s, Moran travelled to Lake Superior, where he painted and sketched the landscape of the Great Lakes.
  • In 1871 he worked on Ferdinand V Hayden’s Geological Survey Expedition to what is now Yellowstone National Park.
  • Moran was hired, along with photographer William Henry Jackson, to document the landscape of the region.
  • Their combined talents in documenting the geysers, hot springs, canyons and cliffs of Yellowstone were be instrumental in persuading the US government to set the land aside as a national park.
  • His two most famous works, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and The Chasm of the Colorado, were purchased for a previously unheard-of sum of $10,000 each by Congress to be displayed in the Capitol in Washington.
  • The Three Tetons is part of the White House collection and can sometimes be spotted hanging in the Oval Office.

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