Never in my wildest dreams would I have imaged I would imagine myself in this role of Artist in Residence at a National Park. My parents began taking my brothers and me to National Parks when I was very young. Their need to see wild places was not extinguished by packing up three arguing children and driving for 12 hours. We’d go on two week long camping trips all over Colorado and South Dakota. We saw Old Faithful and Bison on the Great Plains and then drove straight back to our regular lives in St. Charles, Missouri.
When I was struggling after college, drowning in a desk job, not making art, it was my love for the wilderness that carried me. As a child, it was important for my parents to show us the most dazzling corners of the United States. As an adult, any vacation not spent in a National Park is a waste of PTO. I have urgency in the deepest corners of my soul to see the next great landscape the Park Service has to offer. I’ve never been disappointed by the vastness and diversity of our public spaces.
Eventually, seeing these incredible landscapes inspired me to pick up my paintbrush and start painting. Every time I look at one of these paintings, no matter if it was done last year or 5 years ago, I am immediately transported back to that day. I can feel the sun on my shoulders, see the wind blowing my painting away and remember having to chase it down and brush dirt off of it before starting again. I remember my mood. I can see everything around me. I can feel the mosquitos biting me and my shoulder being sore from carrying so much equipment for a few miles to find a good spot. I notice smaller details than normal, because I was standing in one spot for a few hours really studying everything around me. The details of these Parks are burned into my brain.
The history of American Art has long been intertwined with the National Park Service. In 1871 Thomas Moran explored the Yellowstone area with a group of land surveyors for forty days. Not only was it his paintings that gave Americans their first glimpse of the spectacular sites Yellowstone had to offer, but it was also his art that convinced President Grant and Congress that Yellowstone should be preserved. Although Moran had been a working artist for decades, it was Yellowstone that gave him public recognition and financial success. He gave as much to Yellowstone as Yellowstone gave to him.
Making art drives me to National Parks. National Parks inspire me to make art. My two loves feed each other, and together they feed me. It is a huge honor for my art to be inserted into the 100 year history of the National Park Service. I hope to do it justice, but I know my contributions will pale in comparison to everything The National Park Service has given me.