Artists in Our National Parks

As an Artist in Residence at Capitol Reef National Park,  I organized a talk about the History of Artists and Art in our National Parks.  When chosen as a residence, one of the “give backs” is to lead a hike, give a presentation, or any number of ways to contribute to the Park.  I presented to a group of visitors some techniques for using their smart phone more successfully.  And, I made a presentation at the Fruita Campground Amphitheater in Capitol Reef, and a public presentation at Mesa Verde National Park.

Artists have contributed to the formation of our parks from the early days of the Hayden Survey in 1871, all the way up till the present day, where the Artist in Residence programs thrive in our Parks.  Thomas Moran, William Henry Jackson, Frederick Dellenbaugh, painted and photographed in the West, as did many others. Today, contemporary photographers and artists contribute to our understanding of our precious National Parks and create images that speak to the preservation and expansion of our Parks.

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Click this link for a full copy of the presentation of Art in Our National Parks.

Contemporary Art in our National Parks

Visit any National Park Service site and you’re bound to see photographers, artists, film makers, musicians, sculptors, writers, inspired and working on-site.   And many visitors use their smart phones for selfies, and bring home memories in our Parks, our Public Lands, and recreation areas.

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Many of our Parks sponsor Plein Air Invitationals and host Artists in the Parks. Capitol Reef joined the list of about 50 National Parks that offer time and support for an Artist in Residence in 2017.  I was honored to be chosen as their first AIR.

Links to contemporary art being created in our Parks

Long-time Alaskan Kim Heacox spent a part of 2012 as one of Denali’s three writers-in-residence, and donated this essay after his experience.

A 2010 residency at Devil’s Tower allowed Chavawn Kelley to experiment with photography, and later inspired her written works here

Kathy Hodge, Artist in Residence.

Here’s a link to my portfolio of Artist Residencies in our Parks.

 

Hillman and Lookout Peaks, with Wizard Island.

My first look at Crater Lake. Artist in Residence, 2015

Annie Spring-Snowmelt

Annie Spring, Crater Lake National Park. ©Kit Frost

Clouds moving over Capitol Reef National Park

Autumn Gold, Capitol Reef National Park. Between 2016 and 2017 I spent about 14 weeks at Capitol Reef. In 2016 I volunteered as an Information Ranger. And in 2017 I was honored to be chosen as the first Artist in Residence in the Park. This image was made during the golden days of autumn in Cap Reef.

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Long House, Mesa Verde National Park. ©Kit Frost, 2017 Artist in Residence

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National Park Photography

The Challenges of Photographing in National Parks

Capturing the grandness of the canyon from Grandview Point. ©Kit Frost

Capturing the grandness of the canyon from Grandview Point. ©Kit Frost

These images were all taken in our National Parks.  As a frequent visitor to our Parks, I see an increase in visitation, especially this past year.  If you went to a National Park during the summer months of May, June, July and August, you could expect crowds.  But this year I retired, so I could travel whenever I pleased.  I choose May for Crater Lake, June for Acadia, September for the Grand Canyon, October for Capitol Reef, and November for Zion.

I don’t know whether it’s because the #FindYourPark campaign is driving more folks to our parks, or the economy is truly in recovery (Average entrance fee: $30.) but I do know this: unless you get away  from the rim, away from the favorite hiking trails, or find an off the beaten path location in the parks, there are crowds, big crowds. Add to that the tripod I carry and before you know it, I’ve got a crowd setting up their selfie sticks and cameras nearby (sometimes kicking my tripod). In Zion this year, it’s estimated that there were over 1 million more visitors in 2015 than 2014.

2014 Visitors
Great Smoky Mountains     10,099,276

Grand Canyon                          4,756,771
Yosemite                                    3,882,642
Yellowstone                              3,513,484

Zion National Park                 3,189,696

I’m not suggesting that we lock the park door behind us, but I am saying that as someone who enjoys our National Parks, a good hike, some photography, and backpacking and camping in our Parks I’m concerned.

I made this "sketch" with my iPhone.

I made this “sketch” with my iPhone.

Crater Lake is a stunner in the winter. As the resident artist in May, I had the opportunity to explore the park during all kinds of weather. Very few crowds along the rim trail. The Lodge was closed for the season, so there were no accommodations.

What I do to mitigate the crowds

Number One, I remember that the parks are for all of us.  In order to have my experience and to honor others, I find the quieter, less crowded times of the day to explore.; that means I can enjoy pre-dawn photography, and get to an off beat location for sunrise.  Oftentimes the shuttle driver is the person suggesting where to photograph sunrise and sunset (I scout my preferred location away from those suggestions). The other joy: I stay at camp later and explore the park later in the day, when the tour buses are less likely to be dumping visitors at the most popular trails.  Here are some ideas:

  • Explore the parks during “off season”.
  • Get out and stay out, exploring the park while others are having breakfast/dinner
  • Scout locations before setting up for new images
  • Steep hikes and long trails (get going early, stay late)
  • Tripod: bring it along, but avoid setting it up in an exposed area.  It’s like a magnet
  • Go off the beaten path (Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, Bright Angel Trail are filled with hikers)
  • Take advantage of storms (great photo ops, rarely crowded locations). But be safe.
  • I like to go find a tree to sit under, have a snack, and get away from the trail and the noise.  It’s never wise to go too far off-trail, but as long as I feel safe and know my way back, I’m golden.

Soundscapes

The Parks Service is introducing a series of programs aimed at showing visitors the importance of listening. I prefer long, quiet hikes and  look forward to the “soundscapes” focus in the next few years. 

Sound Level

Sound levels in national parks can vary greatly, ranging from among the quietest ever monitored, to extremely loud. While, for example, the din of a typical suburban area fluctuates between 50 and 60 dBA, the crater of Haleakala National Park is intensely quiet, with levels hovering around 10 dBA. Along some remote trails in Grand Canyon National Park, sound levels, at 20 dBA, are softer than a whisper ( Bell, Mace, & Benfield, 2009). The noise levels standing near a snowcoach in Yellowstone National Park, however, can be compared to standing three feet from a churning garbage disposal (California Department of Transportation, 1982).

Our world is getting noisier. With dramatic increases in traffic, the explosion of digital gadgets (think of your buddy’s constantly chirping Smartphone) and our increasing capacity to reach once-remote areas, quiet solitude is a diminishing commodity. Not surprisingly then, the American public comes to parks with natural quiet in mind. They come for the soothing effect of a gurgling stream, a delicate bird song, or the rustle of leaves on a fall day. From the awe-inspiring thunder of a waterfall to the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze, natural sounds have a subtle but profound impact on visitors. In fact, 72% of Americans say one of the most important reasons for preserving national parks is to provide opportunities to experience natural peace and the sounds of nature (Haas & Wakefield, 1998).

However, natural quiet in parks is increasingly at risk. To study the effects of human-caused noise on visitors, volunteers at Muir Woods National Monument cataloged all sounds they heard, day and night, for a year. What they found was surprising. It was rarely quiet (Monroe, Newman, Pilcher, Manning, & Stack, 2007). Parks are experiencing an on-going acoustic assault by everything from air tours to maintenance equipment. Such noise affects visitors’ perceptions of solitude and tranquility. In a related study at Muir Woods, visitors found increasing levels of human-caused sounds to be unacceptable and even annoying (Monroe et al., 2007). Noisy visitors, loud talking, and other related sounds were found to substantially detract from the quality of the visitor experience. In other studies, noise has been shown to be more disturbing to visitors if it is loud, occurs in bursts, is unpredictable, or if it interferes with quiet activities such as bird watching.

Isolated areas are not exempt. In Grand Canyon, no single location is totally free of aircraft noise, and in some areas it can be heard up to 43 times in a 20-minute period. Backcountry hikers, after September 11, 2001, reported knowing that something was very wrong because there were no sounds from commercial aircraft (Bell, Mace, & Benfield, 2009). Tranquility, it turns out, even in the most remote areas of our national parks, is at stake.

Natural and cultural sounds awaken the sense of awe that connects us to the splendor of national parks and have a powerful effect on our emotions, attitudes, and memories. The National Park Service regards these sounds as part of a web of natural and cultural resources that must be protected.

You can make a difference.

Click this link to the National Parks, Natural Sounds site.

  • Speak softly when having conversations, especially on hiking trails and at campsites.
  • Be aware that the noise you make could affect other visitors, and encourage friends and family to do the same.
  • Be considerate of campground quiet hours.
  • Look for mute options on electronic equipment such as cell phones, watches, or cameras.
  • Turn off cell phones / avoid using speakerphones.
  • Consider leaving iPods and or personal radios in the car or at home.
  • Avoid using external speakers that others can hear.
  • Participate in non-motorized recreational activites (i.e., hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, canoeing)

The great thing about soundscapes is that with just one small change, you can make a dramatic difference. Imagine just talking a little quieter the next time you visit a national park. That alone can help to greatly improve a soundscape.

The rim of the grand is a great location to work with warm/cool light. ©Kit Frost

Along the Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon is the most crowded of all the places I visited.

I anticipate that we will see some changes in the parks over the next few years.  The parking lots are packed, sometimes with no place to park by 11am, and with or without the shuttle bus, the lines are long.  At the Grand Canyon, privately owned buses are allowed to “dump” groups of tourists at each of the overlooks, so for about 1/2 hour the noise level is high and the locations crowded.

I would not want to return to the days of cars in the parks, because the lack of parking and the unsafe conditions are really awful.  I think the shuttle service in the Grand Canyon and Zion, Yosemite, are a MUST do.  Not only does the driver tell stories, but the convenience is amazing; lines and all.  I’ve never waited longer than 10 minutes for a shuttle ride, and after a sweet, long hike, it’s kinda nice to sit and let the driver take me to my next location.

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm. ©Kit Frost

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm.  ©Kit Frost

What’s your experience?  When did you visit one of our National Parks? Did you experience crowds?  Did you love it anyway?

Artist in Residence: Acadia National Park

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The Adventure begins

I don’t like to fly.  It’s inconvenient, stressful, boring, frustrating and leaves me feeling powerless. But, since surgery in March, hip replacement, I’ve driven 3700 miles round trip from Durango to Crater Lake National Park for my first Artist Residency.  I advise against driving long distances one month after surgery!  Even with cruise control, driving was painful, and camping even more challenging.

It’s not that I didn’t prep for the journey.  In fact, I was devoted to physical therapy after surgery.  But choosing to drive with my right hip recovering is what I call self-will to the max.  Although my surgeon (who rocks) gave me the go ahead, in retrospect I could have made a different decision.  I rested after every 75-100 miles and took 8 days to get to Oregon, and I don’t regret a minute of the trip, but learned from it.

Artist in Residence: Crater Lake National Park, May 2015

There's nothing quite like seeing the sky reflected in Crater Lake.

There’s nothing quite like seeing the sky reflected in Crater Lake.

My original plan was to drive up to Crater Lake National Park for the two week Artist in Residence program at the Park and then drive across country to my next gig at Acadia National Park.  The idea was to have my own car, with all my art and photography gear packed, my bike aboard, and camping along the way, resting when needed, really appealed to me.  But then there’s that hip replacement. As a result of a consultation with my mother, all that changed.  Yesterday I flew to Maine.

Air Travel with Camera Gear and Art Supplies

I shipped most of my art supplies, and my carry-on consisted of my camera gear and electronic equipment: macbook pro, battery chargers.  Although I have a carry-on sized for the airlines, the new procedure of checking carry-on at the plane if the overhead bins are small or full is frustrating.  I didn’t want to risk having my camera gear broken, so I stuffed my camera bag and laptop inside my rolling baggage while in the airports: Durango, Denver, Chicago, Portland, and then carried on just the camera bag and laptop, and curbside checked the empty luggage.

In years past, whenever I travelled by air with my camera gear, it wasn’t a big hassle.  I would carry on my camera gear, and check my tripod and luggage, but at $25 per bag it can add up. So I bought a new tripod, and had it shipped to Acadia, instead of adding that to my carry on. My checked luggage also had art supplies, pochade box, oil pastels, tripod head and clothing and shoes.  It was a hassle, the shipping cost me plenty, the final leg of travel was delayed for two hours, but now I am sitting in a motel in Brunswick, Maine.  And the rental car is outside of my room.  I will re-pack today, and head out to Rockport, Maine where I’ll stay with friends for a few days before driving up (down) east to Winter Harbor.

The Interpretive Ranger at Acadia may be able to lend me a bike.  That’s the one thing I was unable to stuff in my carry-on.  And I’ll be at Schoodic Institute from June 5-25 making art, hiking, biking and exploring the secrets of Acadia.  I’m thrilled, excited, honored and ready to roll.

This is what it’s all about

I’ve spent time at the Bar Harbor area of Acadia, brought students to Otter Cliffs and Thunder Hole for photography lessons, but this is the first time I will be at the Schoodic Institute with access to the Winter Harbor (said with a Maine accent) section of the Park.  I will be housed in a fully equipped, apartment at Schoodic.  I look forward to the inspiration of the land, sea, weather, and sky.

Follow along on this excellent art adventure.  I’ll post photos and time lapse videos and tell the stories as I join a long line of artists who practiced their craft in recognition and support of our National Parks.

Here’s a link to my recent series of blog posts

And some current images, created during June 2015, Artist Residency, Acadia National Park

An article about the Artist in Residence Program at Acadia.

Crater Lake: Time Lapse at the Lake

Crater Lake: A Time Lapse.  

This video was created by photographing 300 digital images with a Nikon D5300.  The camera was set to record one image every nine seconds.  I choose the interval based on watching the subject, in this case the clouds, move across the sky.

I enjoy time lapse photography as it allows me to set up my camera and then enjoy the view, talk to visitors on the rim at Crater Lake and other locations.

The Process

  1. Set up a sweet location for photography
  2. Focus
  3. Choose the proper shutter speed and aperture, consider depth of field
  4. Set camera to manual
  5. Shut off auto everything
  6. Set up Intervalometer, it helps to have a minimum of 200 images for a good time lapse
  7. Upload to Lightroom
  8. Edit and export images as jpegs – I photograph RAW files (Nikon NEF)
  9. Place images in a timeline in iMovie
  10. Set duration of each photo to .1 or .2 seconds
  11. Add transitions, titles and audio
  12. Export .mov and share

The Road to becoming an Artist in Residence

My first view of Crater Lake included making a time lapse sequence of 300 still photos along the rim of the Caldera ©Kit Frost

My first view of Crater Lake included making a time lapse sequence of 300 still photos along the rim of the Caldera ©Kit Frost

The Adventure Begins in Crater Lake

What an understatement! The actual path to these two plus weeks as the Artist in Residence began long ago.  As I retired from teaching, moved to Durango and built up my Chase the Light Photography Adventures, I planned and envisioned a life of travel, art, photography, and exploration.  One of the dreams I’m pursuing is to spend serious time in our National Parks, as a Resident Artist.  Many of our National Parks have an application process available to established and emerging artists. The program offers time and accommodations in the most beautiful places. These are not paid gigs in the formal sense, but a real opportunity to spend quality time and follow my bliss.

In 2013, I began the process of research and writing necessary to apply.  The first priority: establishing a timeline for applications, organizing site specific portfolios, writing essays and gathering letters of recommendation.

Here’s an online site listing all the National Parks offering art residencies.

After review of each Park’s program and taking a look at my motivations to be at a specific park, I set deadlines and began writing proposals. Each application is a challenge to write, demanding of time and is a huge commitment, requiring a thorough examination of my portfolio for the “right” kind of images to send.  Most of the applications require a 1-2 page statement of intent, a small sampling of  4-8 images, letters of recommendations, and curriculum vitae.  And all applications include a proposal for the project to be completed during the residency.

The residencies provide an opportunity to devote 2-4 weeks’ time in a cabin or other rustic accommodations, time devoted to making art, and sharing that process with visitors.  Artists chosen for this prestigious and competitive award are also required to make a public presentation while at the park, and to donate one piece of art within a year of their residency.

A list of current and past applications:It helps to be “thick skinned” and not take the application process personally.  Just as with juried exhibitions, there is a standard of excellence in the level of artists applying, and the “right” person for each residency, the right image to fit an exhibition theme. Some review committees will provide comments, while others just don’t have the time to respond to the more than 250 artists competing for a few residencies a year.  This process is highly competitive and responding to deadlines and following the procedures is imperative.  One reviewer told me that the additional letters of recommendation I submitted were cumbersome and too much for the committee to read. Other park’s do not respond other than a letter of thanks (no, I’m not calling it a letter of rejection)

I’ve applied to all the following:

  • Acadia NP
  • Crater Lake NP
  • Glacier NP
  • Grand Canyon NP
  • Great Basin NP
  • Great Smoky Mountains NP
  • Isle Royale NP
  • Joshua Tree NP
  • North Cascades NP
  • Petrified Forest NP
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Zion NP

And in 2015 I’ve been offered residencies at Crater Lake and Acadia.  I gladly accepted.  I have submitted 2016 applications to Joshua Tree, Durango Arts.org, and will meet the deadline for Zion in July.  In 2016 I was offered residencies at Bighorn Canyon in Wyoming, Glacier National Park, in Montana and Mesa Verde in Colorado.

I’ve posted some images and blogged about my experiences and inspirations while a visiting artist. Join me on this wonderful, creative, journey