Trained as a painter, MaryEllen Hackett made the decision to apply to the National Park Service her senior year of college. She was working at the Fire Island National Seashore and had found that her heart gravitated toward landscape painting. What better way to immerse yourself in landscape than by becoming a National Park Ranger?
Since 2010, MaryEllen has worked seasonally as a ranger at Glen Canyon, Wind Cave, Yellowstone and Yosemite. In her words, “being an artist never took a back seat.” In the off-season she was awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Joshua Tree National Park, Weir Farm National Historic Site, Fire Island National Seashore, and the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Wyoming. Beyond the ability to live within the boundaries of these spectacular parks, MaryEllen is a ranger because she is able to protect the landscapes she paints and the people who visit them.
As a result, her Subaru has seen long miles in the past 5 years and her artwork has become a collection of home places, waypoints, and countless conversations with visitors to America’s National Parks:
In finding a sense of home in the public landscape, I hope that I have connected a few others to new ways of seeing these places.
In both these conversations and her paintings, MaryEllen wants to share her experience and encourage people to “engage with the landscape on a deeper level, to find something personal within the public landscape.” This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service and MaryEllen was awarded the title of “Centennial Artist Ambassador” at Weir Farm National Historic Site. It’s a role she takes seriously. She knows that 2016 will be a “wondrous year, as well as a crowded one.” It’s an opportunity to educate people who visit the parks, as well as inspire.
MaryEllen believes in the value of all park sites, large and small. Her paintings illustrate that appreciation and are most often created in the field. Some artists take photographs and bring them back to the studio, MaryEllen exercises a quick hand as she paints the landscape in front of her.
When park visitors see her painting, some say they are artists themselves. More often, though, they say that they “used to draw” or “always wanted to be an artist.” MaryEllen encourages them to pick up a pencil and start, or start again. She’s rewarded when, later on, a person reaches back out to show her their sketch. They’ve found a personal connection to the park, and a reason to return.
All work (C) 2016 MaryEllen Hackett
Article written by Gale Straub