After spending two weeks in the mountainous region of Arkansas, I have to say that my expectations were exceeded. I guess I didn't know what to expect, having never visited the state, but I hadn't heard much about Arkansas as a tourist destination. The forest was lush and green and the people were friendly and hospitable- they carried a certain pride about their state that was refreshing.
Thanks to park ranger and program director Jeff Heitzman, I was settled into my quaint park cabin at Gulpha Gorge Campground in no time. It was a different experience than Isle Royale- running water, full bathroom, kitchen, living room, studio space, and bedroom- along with heat and AC (which I avoided use of, but I was advised to keep windows closed due to extreme humidity). I was warned of a spider problem- yikes!- but my arachnophobia was kept at bay because the rangers treat the foundation every few months. I started my mornings with a cup of green tea and a good book ranging from fiction to studies on color theory to a re-read of Kandinsky's Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The campground wasn't bursting with visitors in May, so I often took a seat at one of the many picnic tables along Gulpha Creek to sketch, read, or write in my journal. I preferred the dappled sunlight through the trees over the indoor light of the studio and so I often brought all of my work outside. My main setback was the box of paints that I had shipped because I couldn't check them in my baggage. They got lost. While waiting, I worked with the pencils, watercolors, and ink that I had, but later I was forced to purchase paints. I lost a little bit of faith in the USPO.
Most days, I hiked the trails on Hot Springs Mountain. The trails led from the campground up to various viewpoints where I could look out over the mountains and town of Hot Springs- my favorite being Goat Rock. The trails also end up in town which provides a more historical perspective of the area. Even though nature is where I thrive, I truly enjoyed my visit to Fordyce Bathhouse and Bathhouse Row which dates back to the Victorian Era. I wandered around art galleries in town, sketched the open hot spring in a public park, and watched historical presentations thanks to the park service and local volunteers. Unlike my other residency, Hot Springs provided me with a hat and shirt that labeled me as the Artist-In-Residence. Quite a few guests and park employees stopped to talk to me, and I even ended up doing an impromptu presentation to a high school art class while visiting the bathhouse. I wouldn't necessarily label this residency as being better or worse than my previous experience with the National Park Service- just different.
I appreciate the fact that each approach corresponded with the park's mission and "flavor." Hot Springs was definitely a friendly, neighborhood feel, and the park carries a strong connection to the historical town. (Isle Royale was woodsy and isolated- special because it remains largely untouched.)
The weather was mostly sunny and bright except for a few heavy thunderstorms with the most frequent lightning I've ever seen. The rain at night seemed to make the mornings even more magical. I would walk through the woods, the moisture hanging in the air like a giant cloud, watching the sunlight bounce off the droplets covering each leaf. The creek had a healthy current that replaced my headphones for my entire stay, and, not to sound corny, but the trip seemed to wash my artistic slate clean for new ideas and a new direction with my work.