Art has been part of the history of national parks since the 1860’s when Hudson River School painters captured the majestic Western landscapes that became our first iconic national parks. Their awe-inspiring works spurred Americans to preserve those lands for future generations. Artist George Catlin, during an 1832 trip to the Dakotas, was perhaps the first to suggest the idea of a national park. Catlin traveled extensively and noted that Indian civilization, wildlife, and the wilderness were in danger unless they could be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park….a Nation’s Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild[ness] and freshness of their nature’s beauty!”
Today, there are Artist in Residence (AIR) programs in more than 50 National Park Service units, which preserve the connection between arts and the parks. Catoctin Forest Alliance (CFA) manages the local Artist in Residence program jointly with Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park. Selections for the program are made by a panel that includes art experts from local colleges. In addition to accepting a variety of visual media, the program in 2013 began accepting written media as well.
CFA was established in 2009 as a partner organization to Catoctin Mountain Park NPS and Cunningham Falls State Park MPS. One of the CFA founders was artist Elizabeth Prongas, who began the local AIR program here in 2010 to bring a new and diverse voice and constituency to the parks. Since the inception of the AIR program, CFA has welcomed 31 artists to the Catoctin Mountains. They have come from California; Washington, D.C.; Kentucky; Tennessee; Massachusetts; Maryland; New Jersey; New York; Oregon; and Virginia. The artists include painters; photographers; poets; a writer; a videographer; cast metal artist; a wool felter; a journaling artist; and, this year, a fabric artist/quilter. The artists stay in an historic cabin in Catoctin Mountain Park for one to three weeks and produce art influenced by the mountain setting. After the residency, each artist donates one piece of the art they created during their stay to the CFA AIR collection.
The AIR art collection has been on exhibit at the Delaplaine Arts Center in Frederick, the Thurmont Library, the Emmitsburg Library, and the Visitor Center in the Manor Area of Cunningham Falls State Park. The collection is permanently housed in Catoctin Mountain Park.
This year’s Artist in Residence is Susan Lenz, a fabric artist/quilter, who will be in residence during September. She will be presenting free workshops in September at the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and the Thurmont Regional Library. Visit their websites for dates and times and check out the Community Calendar in this issue. Adults and children are welcomed to hear her presentation and have the opportunity for hands-on participation.
The Artist in Residence program not only strengthens the bond between nature, art, and the outdoors, but the sale of the art produces funds to bring children to the parks for outdoor learning experiences.
For more information on CFA and the AIR program, please visit www.catoctinforestalliance.org. To learn more about the artist, visit her website at www.susanlenz.com.