Enjoy the Beauty and Magic of National Parks at the Museum

Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator

For many of us, exploring a national park with our family is the source of some of our happiest childhood memories. Families have been traveling to parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon for decades. These national treasures have been the inspiration for many artists through the years. As more Americans feel comfortable traveling again following the COVID-19 pandemic, the tradition of spending vacations on the road will be underway this summer. Until you are ready to hit the road, the Museum has some brilliant watercolor vistas on display in the comfort of the open gallery spaces.

Larry Hughes: A Walk in the Parks is a traveling exhibit featuring luscious watercolor landscapes from several national parks in the western United States. Hughes spent time in some of the more well-known parks in the country as an artist-in-residence for the National Park Service. The artist-in-residence program provides a winning artist the chance to live on-site in a national park with the intention of capturing the beautiful landscapes in their chosen medium. In exchange, the artist provides programming to the public and donates artwork to the NPS. Hughes has participated in the program several times and has amassed a beautiful collection. Artists have been capturing America’s natural beauty in the parks since the nineteenth century, and the paintings they produced have played a monumental role in helping the public appreciate the parks system. Larry Hughes hopes his work communicates “the value of preserving our great wilderness treasures.” Following his artist residency, Hughes has transitioned from a more scientific pursuit in geophysics to the sublime life of a full-time artist. 

“Last Kiss” by Larry Hughes

My personal favorite is a piece displayed facing the entrance to the Orgain Gallery. Last Kiss is a large watercolor painting of the Grand Canyon. The title refers to the spectacle of the sun hitting the rim of the canyon near sunset – a “last kiss” of light before nightfall. The painting looks like a photograph, until you get close and see that it is indeed a watercolor. The beautiful use of colors hints at the extraordinary vision the same view must be in life, and will inspire anyone to take their own walk in the parks. 

Larry Hughes’ plein air setup

Larry Hughes discussing a piece during a Museum visit

Yellowstone and Yosemite may not be nearby, but Montgomery County residents do not have to go far to support the National Park Service. Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Clarksville will get you to Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover, Tennessee. Fort Donelson is a park that operates under the NPS and has a fascinating story to tell. While Clarksville’s Fort Defiance did not see battle during the Civil War, Fort Donelson certainly did. Its surrender was significant to the war’s outcome. For nature-appreciators, the park boasts nature trails and a beautiful view of the Cumberland River. While Fort Donelson’s Visitor Center is currently undergoing renovations, a temporary one is open 7 days a week from 9 AM – 4 PM. Park rangers are on duty and occasionally offer special programs, so call ahead to make the most of your visit. You can check out their website here: https://www.nps.gov/fodo/learn/index.htm

Enjoy Larry Hughes:  A Walk in the Parks in the Orgain and Bruner Galleries inside the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center through July 18.

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