In 1872, Bell returned to England to marry Cara Scovell, a childhood sweetheart, and shortly thereafter the newlyweds set off for Colorado. They settled in Manitou Springs, where Dr. Bell envisioned the opportunity of founding a health spa and hotel, which came to be known as ‘The Saratoga of the West.’ Dr. and Mrs. Bell stayed at the hotel while their Gothic style mansion—named Briarhurst for the wild rose similar to the English sweetbriar found in the valley—was built. The hotel thrived under the Bells’ direction, becoming the center of the community and attracting wealthy visitors from the Eastern United States and England.
In 1900, the artist Thomas Moran visited the Grand Canyon for a second time with his youngest daughter, Ruth, traveling extensively in Arizona and New Mexico. He was captivated by the landscape and produced a number of striking works of the pueblos at Acoma and Laguna. Moran sketched the imposing rock form of the Acoma, which his friend Charles F. Lummis described as, “the noblest single rock in America,” on several occasions including Sand Storm, Acoma, New Mexico, which was a gift from Moran to the Bell family (Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, Norman, Oklahoma, 1998, p. 286). Using a variation of tone, he adeptly conveys the scale and grandeur of the landscape in the present work. Detail in the distant mountains is achieved through more subtle modulations of washes over pencil.
During a visit to England, Mrs. Bell first beheld another of the artist’s works on view in Brighton, The Mountain of the Holy Cross, a majestic depiction of one of Colorado’s most recognizable peaks that had been the artist’s chief contribution to America’s first World’s Fair, the 1876 Centennial Exposition. She brought the painting to the attention of Dr. Bell and they purchased it in 1880 and installed it at Briarhurst. As Thurman Wilkins notes, “Then, in January 1886, while Dr. Bell was away in Boston, the mansion burned to the ground during weather of twenty degrees below zero. The painting narrowly escaped destruction. Mrs. Bell rescued her children, then, with the butler’s help, she turned to save The Mountain of the Holy Cross. It was necessary to slash the canvas from its frame, which had been bolted to the wall” (Ibid, p. 144). Moran was able to restore the painting and became a close friend of the Bell family, visiting Briarhurst on several occasions.
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