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Former Wrangler Shares Grand Canyon Life Through Art

Although Artist Mary Lois Brown had never traveled more than 20 miles outside of her small town in Pennsylvania, a river trip at the Grand Canyon in the late 1970s swept her miles away to a new home and a new job.

Not only did that trip spur a love for the canyon, but also a love for the mules. In 1981, Brown accepted a job as one of only two women wranglers at the Grand Canyon. “I wanted an outdoor job,” she said. “There was one other woman wrangler that year, Shirley Bell, but I was the only one to make it through the winter as a guide.”

After spending a total of three years as a wrangler, Brown revisited her former profession as a hairstylist and obtained the contract for the beauty salon at the Bright Angel Lodge. “I didn’t move to the Grand Canyon for a job, I went there for the canyon. I purchased the contract for the salon so I could do what I wanted, hiking and volunteering for the park service on the Colorado River. With this (salon) job, I had to get up and go to work but they didn’t tell me when. As a wrangler you have to be on time.”

Bright Angel Hair Design was the official name of Brown’s salon, which she ran for 17 years.

“The beauty salon was there since the 1940s, and during that time, the well- known and respected architect Mary Colter got her hair done there,” said Brown. Currently, there are no salon services offered at the Grand Canyon.

Upon transferring from her job as a wrangler to the salon, Brown admits that it was hard. “I didn’t realize how much my life revolved around my riders,” she said. “I would get hundreds of letters [and] photographs every day from all over the world. Three days after I ended my wrangler job, I went to the post office and my mailbox was empty.”

As a child, Brown enjoyed drawing and painting horses. “I’ve always enjoyed the creative process,” she said. In 1997, she enrolled in a class taught by Tom Darro at the Scottsdale Art School, which, she says, brought her back to painting with oils. “My favorite medium.”

Now living in Sedona, Brown is a full-time artist painting her beautiful surroundings and of course, the Grand Canyon.

One of her recent paintings is of Grand Canyon Wrangler Maggie Kwiatkowski. “Mary Lois is a wonderful lady,” said Kwiatkowski. “She’s very interesting and has lots of cool stories. I was honored to have her use my photo to paint. Her work is beautiful and I love her interpretation of the mules and the Grand Canyon. With her working here for so long, you can definitely tell that her love of the canyon leaks into the paintings.”

Brown also volunteered with the Grand Canyon National Park Service as a cook for river trips. And she worked for private river running companies, as well. “I loved the mules, but it’s the Colorado River that drew me to the Grand Canyon.”

“Mary Lois has become a great friend to all of us,” said Grand Canyon resident Jack Rinaldi. “When we first met her last year, she had a chance to spend some time with the current group of mostly female wranglers. I think it brought her back to her early days of wrangling.”

Brown is married to Doug Brown, who she met at the Grand Canyon when he was working for the National Park Service as an environmental compliance officer. He is now retired.

Focusing on scenic oils, pet portraits and commissions, Brown’s paintings can be viewed at brightangel@q.com. She can be reached at 928-282-1439.

Who I admire:

“Eric Rhoads. He is a marketing expert, a career entrepreneur and publisher of art magazines and videos and more. He is continually reaching out to others with encouragement and inspiring thousands of people in the world of making art. Since COVID started, he has shared encouragement and art instruction in over 200 live broadcasts through his company, Streamline Publishing.”

My superpower is:

“God. God guided my footsteps from Pennsylvania to Grand Canyon.”

Advice to young people starting a business:

“Make sure your business is good, honorable and go for it with all your might. Address your shortcomings and trust God for direction. You might have to change directions along the way, but don’t have failure in your vocabulary. Learn marketing skills and get educated about what your business is going to be. Ask for advice but make your own decisions.”

My perfect day:

“My perfect day would be sitting on the rim of Grand Canyon on a sunny day either daydreaming or watching the clouds go by and staying until sunset.”

If I could have lunch with anyone:

“It would be John Ringling. He and one of his brothers were the founders of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that spread joy to much of the world for children and adults for many years even after his death. He had a huge mansion and an amazing art museum [in Florida], which started from his private collection as early as 1925. I would love to pick his brain and see how his big heart actually worked from art appreciation to creating what many have called ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’” FBN


By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN


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