Taking up residency

Artists find stint at National Park flies by

Artists find stint at National Park flies by

June 30, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Cynthia Connolly came to Harpers Ferry at least in part because of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

But it is the sea foam that has captured her imagination a week into her month-long tenure as artist-in-residence at the West Virginia historic park.

Specifically, the sea foam color on the walls of the Harpers Ferry train station, where the Washington, D.C.-based photographer has chatted up and snapped pictures of train buffs.

"You know, that's why I try to leave things open. ... You don't know what you're going to see or what's going to happen and I love that," Connolly says. "I came here expecting to do this, this and this and I haven't, which is great in a way because I can always go back to what I thought I was going to do if the others don't pan out."


Between April 10 and November 1, a series of six artists will rotate through the waterfront historical park, drawing inspiration from its rich culture and natural surroundings.

At the conclusion of their stays, each leaves behind a project influenced by their time taking pictures, coloring canvases or doing research. The program, begun in 1998, pays a $400 stipend to participating artists and upholds a long tradition of artists taking advantage of Harpers Ferry.

"It's the most fun part of my job," says program coordinator Richard Raymond, a museum curator at the park. "It's a lot of stimulation."

And he enjoys watching how each artist is affected by their surroundings. Thanks to a grant from the Arts and Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County, two additional artists were added to this year's roster. The other six months of the year are spent whittling down applicants to invite next spring, summer and fall.

On trips down south from her Leverett, Mass., home, Louise Minks and her husband often stop at Harpers Ferry. Becoming a member of the historical association, she subsequently heard about the artist-in-residence program and realized it was an experience she craved.

"Fabulous, four-star. Literally, it was just an incredibly fabulous experience for me and I hope it's as powerful for others as it was for me," says Minks, whose four weeks ended June 15. "Every residency I've found pushes you a little farther along in your development."

Her project is a series of six hinged panels, each featuring a different image. From a landscape of the town to two soldiers positioned near a cannon, Minks says the work is meant to be used by the park and public as an educational tool.

Working at the park, she also knocked out six plein-air a la prima works - paintings of an environment largely completed during one session in that environment - plus a portrait. She soaked up her surroundings as well, taking time out for a morning run or hike each day.

The time is fleeting, though, requiring careful planning to complete projects before the residency is up. Even Connolly, accustomed to one-shot photo ops while traveling, is realizing how quickly her month will evaporate.

"I was looking at a calendar thinking a month isn't as much time as you think and I realized I have to dive right in or a month will go by and whoops, I haven't done all I want to do," she says. "I'm just going to meander around and see and do what I always do, walk around and see what interests me."

If you go . . .

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park artist-in-residence Cynthia Connolly, discussing her work

Wednesday, July 10

Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library

600 Polk St.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

For information, call 1-304-535-2301.

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