Earlier this month I was invited up to Pukaskwa National Park to be their Artist in Residence, and I was pretty excited by the opportunity. I’ve always loved the landscape of Northern Ontario and the Park was welcoming to my family. So, we packed up our van for the adventure and began what my youngest daughter described as our, “lo-o-o-ng drive”.
Pukaskwa is remote. It’s about 14 hours from Kitchener driving north, but getting there with a van full of kids took us three days. Even once you’re there, most of it is only accessible on foot or by boat. Its camping area is never full and when you’re out hiking you rarely meet another soul. It’s quiet, but full of waves crashing and birds conversing. In the end, I found the park’s remoteness to be its charm … It’s a very beautiful place.
Pukaskwa supported me by granting us access to the park, giving us all a place to camp, and providing a space to exhibit some smaller works and to offer a workshop. There was a challenge, however — I was forbidden to collect any of the local colours! I had thought that a a finger tip amount (think of the amount taken when tasting a cake’s icing …) might be permitted for an on-site project, but the National Parks of Canada bureaucracy is extremely strict, and they prooved unbending.
But, this obstacle became an opportunity. Because of it, I was forced to focus more on the experience of finding and seeing local colours by taking daily colour pilgrimages along the trails and shorelines of the park. Finding greens and reds woven into the landscape—without the work of excavation or the prospect of exploring variations—was an enlightening experience. These walks were full of short bursts of discovery that I could enjoy as being in the presence of something beautiful. Of course, I also traveled outside of the park’s boundaries a couple times to rock hound … and I’m excited to see what those local colours become as pigment, too.
What I enjoyed most during my time was the space to walk and think. If I was a landscape artist, I suspect that I would have been busily painting the beautiful surroundings, but for me the landscape’s life and rhythms created a flow of ideas for new approaches and future work.
My thanks to Nicole at Parks Canada for her efforts in coordinating the program and her enthusiastic support.