Al Denyer | 'Chasing Stansbury'

October 20, 2021
Al Denyer | 'Chasing Stansbury'

Al Denyer's Series Chasing Stansbury is currently up in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts Group Exhibition Space Maker. Read about Denyer's research on Stansbury and concept behind her newest series below.



Chasing Stansbury 1-6 was created in response to a Collections Engagement Grant, which provided a unique opportunity to research the collection held at the UMFA along with artifacts housed in the Marriott Library Special Collections.


Howard Stansbury was tasked by the Corps of Topographic Engineers to lead an expedition to the Salt Lake Valley in 1849.  The primary assignment was to survey the Great Salt Lake and explore the region around it, for the purpose of mapping a better wagon road as well as finding a potential route for the transcontinental railroad.  Stansbury’s route ultimately became the one that the Transcontinental Railroad took when it was later constructed and finished in 1869.


Stansbury was the first surveyor to encircle and map the entire Great Salt Lake, using the relatively new system of triangulation, and the first to point out that the lake is a remnant of a much larger body of water.  His report was re-published a number of times and was popular and informative reading for those considering re-locating to and making the journey West.


In Stansbury’s journal style of writing, his attention to detail along with his ability to accurately record his experiences is impressive.  The expedition recorded species of birds, plants, lizards, and mammals, as well as rock samples and fossils.  Many of the image references that I had discovered in the UMFA Collections, appear as illustrations in Stansbury’s journal.  


Inspired by Stansbury’s expedition and subsequent publication, I focused on the coordinates and points of triangulation that Stansbury used to map the Great Salt Lake.  These locations were typically high points, and represented the peaks surrounding the lake.  Tracking these coordinates using Google Maps, each of the six drawings represents the location of one of Stansbury’s triangulation points and the peaks of the Great Salt Lake; Messix, Youngs, Turpey, Farnsworth, Stansbury, and Tangent.


In creating these drawings, I am re-envisioning Stansbury’s findings.  The visual records that we have from the 1849 expedition are site drawings of the landscape, often generalized or even romanticized to an extent.  Interestingly Google Earth also has a tendency to smooth, and the software, creates cartographic generalizations, correcting imperfections.  It is this re-imagining of landscape that fascinates me, and leads me to reference these images in the creation of my own interpretations of Stansbury’s triangulation points.


Stansbury’s sympathy and respect for the native populations that he encountered during his expedition, and the Mormon settlers of the Salt Lake Valley, was unique at the time, and still today elevates Stansbury as a respected contributor to the mapping of the Salt Lake Valley.



Space Maker is a celebration of the University of Utah’s artistic community. The thirty-plus artists featured in this exhibition serve as faculty within the University of Utah’s Department of Art and Art History and comprise a diverse group of thinkers and creators who share a commitment to their work as artists and educators.





Al Denyer’s work encompasses the areas of drawing, painting, printmaking and installation.  Shown in solo and numerous national and international juried and invitational exhibitions, her work has been published in Manifest INDA, New American Paintings, American Art Collector, Western Humanities Review and ‘Leonardo, The International Society For The Arts, Sciences And Technology Magazine’.


Al’s work is included in the Artist Viewing Program at The Drawing Center, New York City, and in 2010 she was awarded the Utah Artist Fellowship Award.  Her work is part of numerous International collections, and she is represented by Modern West Fine Art.


 Originally from Bath, England, Al Denyer is an Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing, and Head of Painting and Drawing in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Utah.