Supporting National Parks Through the Arts

13 July, 2018

Artist Rosalie Haizlett starts every day by opening a map of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Over breakfast, she plans her walk for the day. She packs food and a sketch book, and then leaves for her walk in the woods.

Haizlett spends all day exploring the park and sketching what she sees. At the end of the day she returns to her cabin, and starts painting pictures based on the sketches.

Haizlett has been doing this since the beginning of June as part of the United States National Park Service's Artist-in-Residence program, or A.I.R.

Rosalie Haizlett working on her paintings in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
Rosalie Haizlett working on her paintings in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Arts in the Parks

Artists have been important to American national parks for a long time. In the 1870s, an art movement called the Hudson River School, documented natural America from the northeastern coast to the Wild West.

During that same time, the work of American painter Thomas Moran helped persuade the U.S. Congress to create the country's first national park: Yellowstone, in the western state of Wyoming.

Since 1969, the National Park Service has provided artists the chance to be officially involved with American parks, through A.I.R.

Chris Amidon supervises the resident artist program at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

"It's about connecting to the next generation to art and the public with the landscapes of the national parks."

Resident artists spend two to four weeks in a park. Artists of all kinds may take part, including painters, writers, photographers and musicians. The artists spend their time working on art inspired by their surroundings. They also agree to donate at least one artwork to the park.

Currently, NPS runs 47 artist-in-residence programs in 30 different states.

Amidon said one NPS goal is to bring new people from a mix of age groups and ethnicities to the parks. The A.I.R. program is important for "building a bridge" between the parks and the public, he said.

A love of small things

Haizlett said it was her childhood growing up in an artistic family in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia that led to her career as an artist.

The painter says she is most inspired by small forms of life in nature, such as fungi, insects, and animals.

"I've always really enjoyed the stories of things that are underrepresented."

Haizlett says she is combining her paintings and drawings created in the Smokies to make a jigsaw puzzle. It will show the many species of fungi and insects in the park.

One of Haizlett's favorite experiences at the park so far was the light show produced during the synchronous firefly season. The insects fill the woods. As night falls they begin to light up and off as part of the reproduction process. Within moments, they are all flashing at the same time.

Haizlett created an artistic workbook for children that explains how the bugs do this and why.

Haizlett believes that the residency program helps show the national parks in a new way that can appeal to different people.

"So many artists are inspired by nature, but sometimes people that aren't artists don't see their sources of inspiration as clearly. They make the art more real to people and that I think adds value to the National Parks."

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the U.S. It receives over 11.3 million visitors every year. Its Artist-in-Residence program is one of the largest.

Sheridan Roberts is the park's coordinator of volunteers. "Parks and the arts are both things that we need," she says. But, it can be hard to find the financial support they require. So, Sheridan adds, "we should both hold hands when we can."

As a National Parks Service Artist-in-Residence, Haizlett also teaches at local art schools, as well as for Job Corps, a government program offering job skills training to young adults.

This relationship with the local art community is another important part of the A-I-R program. They partner for art projects and choosing A-I-R candidates.

Music from nature

Not all of the A.I.R. art is visual.

David Huckfelt is a musician and member of the band The Pines. While his band was taking a break last September, he entered the resident artist program on Isle Royale National Park.

The group of islands found in Lake Superior is the least visited National Park in the states. Huckfelt seemed to enjoy that quality.

"It contains pretty much all of the most necessary aspects for an artist these days: solitude, national beauty, very low expense, and the ability to really immerse yourself in the history and geography of our national parks."

Huckfelt wrote 16 songs inspired by his experience at Isle Royale. He recorded them for a new album when he returned home to Minnesota. It is his first solo music project.

While at the national park he also performed concerts for visitors, and took video recordings in the park. He plans to use those recordings to create a music video for one of the new songs. He will donate the video to the park.

Supporting the parks with art

Huckfelt says it is important for people to experience the parks. After all, he said, "We own these parks...they're taxpayer funded."

Sheridan Roberts of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park agrees.

"The national park system would not have existed today had it not been for creative visionaries," She said. "Writers, photographers, painters... it was artists and volunteers who began the movement that introduced the national park system in this country."

I'm Phil Dierking. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Phil Dierking reported this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Do you think art can be used to connect people to nature? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

expense - n. the amount of money that is needed to pay for or buy something

firefly - n. a small flying insect that produces a soft light

fungi - n. any one of a group of living things (such as molds, mushrooms, or yeasts) that often look like plants but have no flowers and that live on dead or decaying things

geography - n. an area of study that deals with the location of countries, cities, rivers, mountains, lakes, etc.

immerse - v. to put (something) in a liquid so that all parts are completely covered

inspire - v. to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create

jigsaw puzzle - n. a puzzle consisting of a picture printed on cardboard or wood and cut into various pieces of different shapes that have to be fitted together.

landscape - n. a picture that shows a natural scene of land or the countryside

sketch - v. a quick, rough drawing that shows the main features of an object or scene

solitude - n. a state or situation in which you are alone usually because you want to be

synchronize - v. to cause (things) to agree in time or to make (things) happen at the same time and speed