Parks and Paint

Artist-in-residence program helps painters and writers share wonders of Glacier Park

By Justin Franz
Writer Matthew Dickerson in Glacier National Park. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Glacier National Park’s wild rivers and majestic mountains have inspired artists for generations. In the years immediately following the park’s creation in 1910, artists from around the world descended on the park to take in its beauty. Many were guests of the Great Northern Railway, which traded travel for paintings that could be used to market the park — and the trains that took people there.

A century later, the National Park Service is continuing that tradition with its annual Artist-in-Residence program, which gives artists a cabin to live and work in, along with the chance to be inspired by the surrounding landscape. More than 50 parks across the country have such programs, from Virginia’s Manassas National Battlefield Park to Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve.

This year, Glacier Park’s robust Artist-in-Residence program features five selected artists: writer Matthew Dickerson, sculptor Laura Burlis, painter Meg Leonard, painter Pamela Haunschild, and quilter Linda Beach.

Dickerson, who is a professor of writing in Vermont and has published numerous books, spent most of June at a cabin along the shores of Lake McDonald. During his time in Glacier, Dickerson worked on two different nonfiction projects: a book about the importance of public lands and another on native cutthroat trout.

“The residency program is just a fantastic opportunity for an artist to be in a place that enables and inspires great work,” he said. “Since arriving in Glacier Park, I’ve written about half a novel and gathered enough material for an entire book.”

Dickerson said each day in the park was different. Most mornings he would get up early and take his laptop to a new spot in the park to write, and then return to the cabin around noon for lunch. After lunch he would sit at the cabin and continue writing. On other days, Dickerson spent time with scientists and park employees, conducting interviews and gathering material for his books.

“Every day has been different based on the opportunity presented to me,” he said.

Leonard will be visiting Glacier this coming September. The New Mexico-based painter grew up in the Midwest and visited Glacier in 1976 on a three-month road trip after graduating from college with degrees in nursing and art. Although she stayed in Glacier for just a week, she never forgot the park’s majestic peaks and wild rivers.

“Being from the Midwest, I had grown up in the flatlands, and so I was just awestruck and mesmerized by Glacier Park,” she said. “That trip was a long, long time ago, but I never stopped thinking about Glacier.”

Leonard had hoped to get a job at a hospital near Glacier, but those plans never panned out and she stayed closer to home. Eventually, she moved to New Mexico, where she put her art degree to work and made a name for herself painting landscapes. Leonard works in pastels and oil and often switches between the two depending on the piece. For work in the field, she likes to use pastel because it’s easier to use on location. For work in the studio, where she can spend days or weeks working on a piece, she prefers oil.

Leonard said she doesn’t paint specific places and prefers to paint landscapes that convey the essence of a location. For her work in the Southwest, that means lots of reds and oranges. But for her upcoming trip to Glacier, she will have to work with a different palette of colors.

Leonard said now that she is toward the end of her nursing career, she is looking forward to throwing herself completely into her art, which is why she now has the opportunity to visit Glacier.

“When I saw the opportunity to spend a month painting in Glacier, I just jumped at the chance,” she said.

During their time in the park, the artists also take part in public demonstrations or talks. Park officials tell visitors to keep an eye on www.nps.gov/glac or its many social media platforms to learn of upcoming events.

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