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Today, Acadia National Park is one of the nation's most popular national parks, visited by over three million people annually. But in the mid-1800s, Mount Desert Island was a remote and inhospitable wilderness. Its discovery by visiting artists such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and Sanford Gifford, and its promotion through their paintings and in prints, travel books, and photographs, began a transformation of its landscape into scenic representations that became symbols of national identity.
A visual culture created by these and other artists of the period established new picturesque travel destinations, resulting in the emergence of a new tourist class stimulated by a belief in the transcendent value of the wilderness experience and an appreciation of landscape.
Pamela Belanger traces the island's visual discovery by New York artists, interpreting the artistic, social, and historical context of paintings, sketches, and other cultural artifacts. Scholar and long-time island resident John Wilmerding offers an appreciation of the island. J. Gray Sweeney examines how art, cultural politics, and the emerging field of visual arts production in New York led to the invention of national parks for purely aesthetic reasons.