Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth from the New York City-based indie publisher Standards Manual recently announced their new book project simply titled Parks. The book is entirely focused on art, typography, maps, and other printed materials from the U.S. National Parks system.
From the book’s introduction by Lyz Nagan-Powell:
If, as Wallace Stegner famously declared, the national parks are “America’s best idea,” how can we explore this idea? There is the historical aspect: America invented the concept of nationally owned and operated parks in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone National Park into existence. But there is more to Stegner’s sentiment than just the invention of the parks. The rest of the quote goes on to say that the parks are “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
The national parks story isn’t simple or easy. It’s full of splendor and glory, as well as greed and exploitation. For every person who loves one of the parks like it’s their own home, there is another who resents the federal government for owning it. Even before Yellowstone became the first national park, park history was fraught with tension. Tension between preservation and use, between indigenous people and white explorers, between local rights and federal oversight, between wild freedom and human control, between park purists and park recreationists, and between commercial exploitation and historic value.
With this tense backdrop, or maybe because of it, art, imagery, writing, and design have played a vital role in the history of the national parks. Compelling creative materials that celebrated the land — including books, paintings, performances, and advertisements — have marked developments and milestones. These items have brought the rich landscapes and their scientific and historical significance to life.
Perhaps together, the tension and celebration make the National Park System – parks, monuments, natural areas, historic sites, and more – the perfect embodiment of America itself, and what the “best idea” of the parks is really all about.
You can learn more about the project and order a copy from the publishers site.