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
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
"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 www.sierraclub.org/lewisandclark/.