While Shenandoah National Park is mainly recognized for its 200,000 acres of waterfalls, hiking trails, vistas and wildlife, the site also offers dozens of programs that appeal to people of varying personalities and ages.
Each year, the Shenandoah National Park Trust is able to offer about five artists a chance to live and work in the beautiful, natural environment, with Danko’s opportunity fast-approaching come Monday, Aug. 17. The works completed during her three-week stay in a furnished cabin at Skyland Lodge in the park will serve to deepen the understanding and appreciation of Shenandoah National Park, according to the NPS website. Plus, Danko is required to donate an original piece of art within six months of her stay.
Here, we chatted with Danko about what she’s most looking forward to about living on the grounds, how nature influences her work and so much more.
What inspired you to apply for this program at Shenandoah National Park?
My artwork is inspired by the natural environment and things that I observe while hiking in Northeast Ohio, where I live. For me, being tuned in to the natural world and experiencing it firsthand is an integral part of my artistic practice, so a National Park residency made a lot of sense to me. Shenandoah’s Artist-In-Residence program meshed perfectly with my needs, as it provides a beautiful environment to learn from and to explore, plus a studio with a view! The topography of Ohio is relatively flat, so I’m really looking forward to experiencing the mountains.
All of your paintings are very vibrant and colorful. Talk to us about the medium you use and why that’s the one you choose to perfect.
My paintings are created using acrylic paint and mediums. I like acrylics because they are versatile and dry quickly. You can thin them to be transparent like watercolor, or add a medium to thicken them, like oil paint. I admit that I love experimenting with color and using a lot of it in my paintings—to me, that’s the real fun of painting. I’ve always been interested in color theory, and the associative power of color to set the stage and create a mood in the work.
Your bio states the following: “I am compelled to make artwork in response to the new realities of our contemporary natural environment.” How has the current environment of the coronavirus crisis impacted your work?
For me, the pandemic unrolled in a slow, surreal sort of way. My calendar for 2020 was perfectly lined up and fully booked with exhibitions, teaching engagements and two residencies—it was looking to be a stellar year. I was so focused on making artwork that the rapid onset of the pandemic really took me by surprise. When the shutdown happened, everything went haywire and I no longer knew what was happening in regard to my calendar or my work. Everything was suddenly different and it took me a while to sort through that. I made a few “pandemic paintings” with a lot of red and angst, but eventually I regained my equilibrium. After much reflection, I realize that the ideas I’m interested in addressing through my work are still out there and may even be heightened by the pandemic.
How do you think being on the park grounds will help shape your work?
As part of my artistic practice, I do research to help inform my ideas and work. In regard to Shenandoah National Park, I’ve been thinking about the rare and beautiful plants and animals that are found only there (essentially, what we should know, see and protect). In particular, my research has been focused around the globally rare and endangered plant communities found in Shenandoah. Thanks to the park’s great database, I was able to access a lot of helpful information on the subject, determining where to find them in the park. August should be a perfect time of year to go where I need to go and see what I want to see. I expect that there will be some surprise discoveries along the way as well!
What are you most looking forward to about the program?
There is a sense of excitement and wonder when experiencing a new place. I’m looking forward to the adventure of discovering new things, seeing new sights and filling the creative well. Solitude in nature is powerful, and being removed from responsibilities to just make art is a real gift. I’m looking forward to some open-ended creative time.
If there’s anything else you wish to share with readers, please do so.
I wish to express my thanks to the Shenandoah National Park trust for recognizing that an artist’s residency program is important and valuable for both the artists they host, and the visitors of Shenandoah National Park. I am truly thankful for their support and sponsorship. I hope that your readers will keep in mind that protecting the environment is our responsibility for future generations. Even small acts can make a difference!
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