Arts in the Park

By Beacon Staff

Two years after artist Myra Messick Simons spent a month working on the edge of Lake McDonald, the scenery of Glacier National Park still renders her speechless. Even when she’s just thinking about it back home, 1,800 miles away in Loveland, Ohio.

“It was very powerful. It’s just an amazing place because it’s so wild and rugged,” she said before pausing for a moment. “It’s almost indescribable.”

The same goes for Tyler Nordgren, a California-based astronomer and photographer, who spent a month in the park in 2008 as part of a yearlong project documenting the night sky in America’s national parks.

“When people heard about my project, they would ask what park was my favorite and I’d always say it was the one I was in, but Glacier was something special,” he said. Messick Simons and Nordgren are both veterans of Glacier’s Artist-In-Residence Program, which invites artists of all mediums to spend a month working in and being inspired by Glacier’s stunning scenery. According to park spokesperson Denise Germann, there are four month-long sessions open in 2014 and the park is currently accepting applications until Jan. 30, 2014.

The program gives an artist uninterrupted time to pursue their work and engage the public. The artist must also give several public programs during their time in Glacier that relate back to their work and the park. In some cases, their art may be used in park publications and displays.

“Art has always been a huge part of Glacier National Park, even before it was a park, when the Great Northern Railway used it to promote the area,” Germann said. “What a cool landscape to get inspired and be immersed.”

Messick Simons first heard of the program from a friend in Ohio and she instantly jumped at the opportunity to spend some time in Glacier Park. She first came to the park in the mid-2000s when she was taking the train to visit her sister in Oregon. When the train stopped at East Glacier Park, she got off for a few minutes and looked around.

“In just five minutes I fell in love with the area,” she said. “I realized I had to get back here.”

She arrived on Lake McDonald in mid-June with her son and spent the next five weeks working on an art project that would eventually be incorporated into interpretive signs at Logan Pass about the different animals that live in the high country. Besides art, Messick Simons is interested in zoology and some of her clients are museums and zoos, so putting animals on paper and canvas is nothing new to her.

Messick Simons met with park employees to develop the project, but she also got plenty of time to spend with her son hiking and exploring the park. In the end, she said it was one of the most productive trips she had ever taken. However, with all of the work that she did and all of the people she met, it was those quiet moments just after sunrise that are some of her favorite memories of the park.

“I’d get up everyday, open the curtains and look outside and it was different everyday. A different mood with either the sun or the fog or the rain,” she said. “It just blew me away.”

While the sunrise usually marked the beginning of Messick Simons’ day, it often signaled the end of the workday for Nordgren, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Redlands in California and author of the book “Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks.”

Nordgren has spent most of his life studying astronomy and in 2008 traveled to 14 different National Parks to work on his book and to talk with officials about the importance of a dark sky. Nearly two-thirds of people in the continental United States cannot see the Milky Way from where they live.

“(A dark sky) is an important asset in our national parks,” he said.

On some clear nights, Nordgren would drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road and take time exposure photos, some of which ended up in his book. Glacier was the final stop on his tour of the national parks and he said it was one of the highlights, in part because of the artist program.

“The Artist-In-Residence Program is one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service,” he said. “To offer artists a chance to stay in our parks, to be immersed in the landscape is critical.”

For more information about the program, visit www.nps.gov/glac or call (406) 888-7800. Applications are available online at www.callforentry.org.