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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Everett Ruess And The Escalante Canyons Art Festival

Everett Ruess Days and the Escalante Canyons Working Art Festival will be held September 17-22, in the town of Escalante. See the festival website for comprehensive information about the event.

Ruess has come to be regarded as an important Western artist and adventurer. In November 1934, at age 20, he disappeared while exploring rugged canyon country in the Escalante area, and was never seen again. His remarkable sketches and prose show he had a deep love for wild country, and an extraordinary sensitivity for nature. His legend continues to expand over time.

Two new books are out with interesting viewpoints about the Ruess mythology. Andrew Hunt describes them in this review, published in The Vancouver Sun. Below are excerpts.

By the time Ruess disappeared, he was a veteran explorer, having spent four years' worth of summers hiking on one-man journeys through some of the most sparsely inhabited regions of the American West. These Depression era odysseys prompted him to write letters to his bohemian Unitarian family in Los Angeles, filled with extensive descriptions of the landscape he so loved. Those letters, along with his vivid poems and striking drawings, watercolours and block prints of western scenes, formed the basis of his legend.

David Roberts, an outdoor journalist and author, won fame when he wrote an article for the now defunct National Geographic Adventure (for which he was a consulting editor) about the discovery of a skeleton in 2008 believed to be Ruess...

Roberts' new book (FINDING EVERETT RUESS: THE LIFE AND UNSOLVED DISAPPEARANCE OF A LEGENDARY WILDERNESS EXPLORER) combines Ruess biography with a memoir of the author's Ruess obsession. He walks readers through the Ruess skeleton fiasco with detailed explanations about DNA tests, dental analyses and Ruess family politics.

Philip L. Fradkin's Everett Ruess (EVERETT RUESS: HIS SHORT LIFE, MYSTERIOUS DEATH AND ASTONISHING AFTERLIFE) is more scholarly than Roberts' anecdotal book. Fradkin tries harder than Roberts to sift through the legends to get to the heart of the genuine person. "I found the real Ruess to be far more interesting than the mythic one," he writes." I don't know in what manner he would have matured, but I do know he was exasperating at times. This quality alone made him more human and interesting, at least for me, than the patron saint of western wilderness, as he has been portrayed."

Ultimately, both tell a gripping tale of a young man consumed by the nature he so desperately loved. It is reassuring to see that, close to 80 years after disappearing, Everett Ruess is finally being taken seriously as a significant figure in the history of the American West.

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