Art Feature // WPA National Park Posters

On our RV trip in '07, one of our big destinations was Yellowstone National Park. It was an amazing place, and I got a cool vintage-y screen print from one of the gift shops while we were there. As a printmaking major, I'm a total geek when it comes to printmaking in all forms, so I was pretty excited to get the print. It's been hanging in my various abodes for the last three years, and has been up in the Winne on this trip too! While I was at the Grand Canyon I went to the gift shop to scope out all the touristy paraphernalia, and I stumbled upon these posters again! I was thrilled to see them, as I wasn't even sure they were being made anymore. I thought they might have been a special edition kind of deal, but turns out they're still being made! I picked up a Zion poster, since I'd just been there, and I thought it was one of the more beautiful ones. I wish the Grand Canyon one looked differently, otherwise I would've snagged one of those, but I just didn't like the colors or design of that poster.

I've decided that I'd like a set of six of them, which I'm going to frame and hang together- three on top, three beneath. So far I have two, and I would've bought another, but I was a penny pincher and didn't let myself indulge in one more. Here are the other four that I'd like to complete my collection:

A little history about the posters themselves and Doug Leen, the man who discovered the original posters and brought them back into production:
Between 1935 and 1943 the WPA's Federal Art Project printed over two million posters in 35,000 different designs to stir the public's imagination for education, theater, health, safety, and travel. Due to their fragile nature only two thousand posters have survived to this day; less than one tenth of one percent! These rare images were rescued and restored from black and white photos beginning in 1993 by Ranger Doug.

Ranger Doug's Enterprises was established by me, Doug Leen, in 1993 after the discovery twenty years earlier of the only surviving WPA poster--Grand Teton National Park. Sensing the possibility of a larger collection, my research took me to remote West Virginia where, ten years later, I discovered the remnants of this art collection--13 black and white photos of this series printed between 1938 and 1941. I immediately embarked on a mission to bring these rare posters back into the public domain.

During the next ten years, several originals have turned up in addition to the one I found in 1973--Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest. Then five Mt. Rainier posters turned up in a garage in South Seattle--three "sandwiched" together in one frame! Later, Bandelier National Monument discovered more than a dozen--with complete documentation of their publication. In 2005 an anonymous collector called with two more original finds and returned to his source to acquire a nearly full set. The search continues...

We now republish all 14 original WPA National Park posters with two additional See America posters printed for the US Travel Bureau. We've also added several contemporary poster designs to this collection at the request of the parks: Devils Tower, Bryce Canyon, Denali, Olympic, Mesa Verde and Hawaii, with more coming.

Doug Leen is actually a pretty cool guy, needless to say! I found out after reading through some of his blog that he's a fellow traveler, like myself, as well as an Alaskan! He lives in Petersburg, AK (which was one of my stops on my ferry trip down from Haines to Prince Rupert), and is quite a handy fellow, restoring old wooden boats among other projects. It's pretty exciting to find out that the guy who was behind some of my favorite art, is also a traveling Alaskan!
If you know anyone who is into this kind of artwork, you can check out the entire series of prints over at They'd be perfect gifts for Christmas, which is coming up faster than any of us would like to admit! They're certainly on my wish-list!