Artist-in-residence programs give artists homes and resources to create art for a community without the pressures of their everyday lives. They have existed since at least the 16th century. They support artists while they make art for the place they are living in. They often also teach or lecture wherever they are living or consult with art programs in the area to strengthen art education.
The National Park Service (NPS) hosts artists through 50 residencies nationwide. Accommodations range from remote cabins to modern studios. They’re all located in historically significant or naturally gorgeous locations. The residents are visual artists, writers, musicians and other creatives. Their stays are two to four weeks long, and then they can share their work with the public.
When you think of artists in the national parks, you might immediately conjure up images of the Hudson River School of painters. But today, we’re focusing on someone doing something new. Nancy Hershberger makes beautiful quilts designed to hang on a wall, not cover a bed. Anyone with a quilter in the family knows how much work goes into one and that they can be gorgeous works of art that are lovingly created. But, Ms. Hershberger’s are next level as she crafts views from national parks in quilt form. Her most recent residency is in Homestead National Historical Park in Nebraska. In 2018 she was in Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. Last year she was in the Great Smoke Mountains.
Ms. Hershberger describes herself as a fiber artist. Her quilt starts like all quilts: batting, backing and a top layer. But she also paints and draws on her quilts to get details. Her quilts feature rivers with moving water reflecting the sky, prairies, stones, forests and whatever she sees.
A recent quilt features the view through the window of her cabin. While her quilts are lovely, Ms. Hershberger is modest. “I don’t think it’s so unique, because there is a whole world of art quilters out there who do their own thing. What I do is fuse. I fuse fabric onto the batting. And then I use inks, and sometimes paints, but on this one in particular inks, just to help boost the illusion of glass or woodgrain.”
“Every park has inspired not one or two quilts, but several series of quilts. Homestead was no different,” she said. “Yes, it was difficult to decide which to do first. The reason I chose the Palmer Cabin interior is because there was something about looking from the weathered past into the unclear present. The window was cloudy enough to glaze over detail.”
The residency program has yielded some incredible art. If you are an artist who would like to get out into a national park for an extended period, you should consider applying! Becoming an artist-in-residence could be your next big adventure and the opportunity of a lifetime.