‘Total immersion into the mountains’ inspired Dayna Walton to create range of art projects

March 17, 2021

  • Dayna Walton creating fabric design

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Artist-in-Residence Program provides artists the opportunity to immerse themselves in the park and create art. The program is funded by Friends of the Smokies. Dayna Walton was one of the artists in 2019 and shares her experiences in this post. The deadline for applying for the 2021 residency is March 31.

by Dayna Walton

I studied printmaking at Kendall College of Art and Design, but I find it hard to stick to just one medium. I love ink drawing, silkscreen printing, and muraling lately.

Dayna Walton at Chimney Tops

One of Dayna Walton’s first hikes during her artist residency was to Chimney Tops. During her hikes, she photographed plants and lichens to use in her artwork.

My subject matter is inspired by the creepy crawly under-represented species found in nature or those that are especially significant for the role they play within a larger system.

Most of my prints and illustrations are created to adorn clothing and handmade goods that I create with local artists in my community, supporting a network of makers. Our work allows me to do the creative work I care about, like teaching, public art, and traveling for research when the world permits.

I found having the time of the artist residency allowed me to unwind and be exposed to a new environment, which was a much needed change of pace.

The residency came just at the right time — in mid-September when the fall fungi seemed to be at their peak. I gathered countless photos of plants, insects, and places that I still look back on for reference and inspiration.

Total immersion into the mountains

Most days I would set out in the mornings and find a trail. It was a learning experience to figure out exactly what I was looking for when there are so many stunning hikes. I narrowed it down to longer hikes on less popular trails, looking for those with cemeteries and old growth forest.

Some favorites were Boogerman Loop, Greenbrier and Purchase Knob. I found all of the trails I visited inspiring for the total immersion into the mountains, it was easy to disconnect from the rest of the world.

Textile patterns inspired by lichens

I’ve made a few textiles patterns inspired by the lichen-covered rocks since visiting as well. Through the residency program, I was able to connect with a lichenologist James Lendemer, Assistant Curator of the Institute of Systematic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, who was staying at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. I was able to visit with the scientist and do some paper dying experiments with lichen.

It is important to me to meet people doing fieldwork and research,to have a more complete perspective of the study of nature. So I found this experience memorable.

Enamored with words and images 0n cemetery stones

The residency program also helped to connect me with some knowledgeable cemetery folks. Through a guided tour I was able to learn a lot more about what I had started to notice myself from hiking.

rubbing from headstone

“June 24, 1928 – Sheltered and safe from sorrow” – Dayna Walton made this rubbing from a headstone in the Palmer Chapel Cemetery in GSMNP.

I was enamored with the words and images found on stones, especially the hand-carved with intimate messages.

The printmaker in me emphasizes with the labor spent to create these memorials that still stand, traces of the past tucked away on elevated east-facing clearings.

These experiences are so important to my art. They keep me soaking up science and wisdom from people who study the world.

I’m finding that I have to make it a priority to put myself into these situations when I’m not in the structure of school anymore.

After the day’s hike and once it was dark, I spent time sketching, working on stencils, and listening to too many podcasts and movies. Honestly, my stay at the park was the first time I was living alone without roommates for a good time. I did a lot of exploring into music and films with no one else’s noise going on!

Visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park as an Artist in Residence as opposed to a tourist gave me a different perspective.

How people perceive and interact with nature

I spent a lot of time thinking about and researching the history of how people perceive and interact with nature, reflecting on the concept of idealized ‘wilderness.’ It’s intriguing to me that so many people can value a place like the Smokies for very different reasons.

Dayna Walton GSMNP-inspired mural in Knoxville

Dayna Walton painted this GSMNP-inspired mural near Market Square in Knoxville.

The park is symbolic on a large scale and individual level — and sometimes in conflicting ways. This theme is something I am still figuring out how to put into words and images, but it’s a curiosity I return to often.

While I was in the Smokies, I connected with Ranger Sheridan Roberts, Parkwide Volunteer Coordinator, who took me under her wing and showed me all the best spots for exploring.

She was kind enough to connect me with volunteer Cindy Spangler, who met me in Knoxville to show me around the University of Tennessee and Old City’s galleries.

It felt like the world was at my fingertips. There were so many new views and experiences and connections with other creatives.

From this visit I ended up returning to Knoxville to paint a mural inspired by my experiences in the National Park. The mural is a part of ‘Strong Alley,’ near Market Square, and made possible by Dogwood Arts.

Arrowmont provided connections & business concept

I also found speaking at Arrowmont’s Thursday night slides just inspiring. This was a time when work fellows and staff shared stories and discussed their work, followed by open studios, where classes and instructors put their art on display with a meet and greet. It was cool to hear what other artists living and working in the area were inspired by, and what drew them to Gatlinburg in the first place.

I realized it was easier to really connect with people in this setting, more than anywhere in the park, we had something in common. I met some friends that I still keep in touch with,and artists to look up to, among the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts staff and students.

The thing that really stuck with me from Arrowmont was the specialization, the time and focus these artists spent on specific skills. Each studio there has teachers who have mastered their unique craft and dedicated so much time to study and growth. They love their jobs and make incredible things.

That’s a concept I have been working to bring into my business – Solstice Handmade. The business encourages others to find what they love and do their very best at it. Primarily through my business, I work with other makers to create products that combine the talents of artists with unique skill sets.

The whole goal of Solstice Handmade is to provide some consistent creative work that people can do from home and support artists and small businesses that specialize in traditional skills, like ceramics, bookbinding, garment design, natural dyeing and sewing.

I’d encourage artists to apply for Artist-in-Residence experience. It is draining to always be putting out work without taking in inspiration.

With the residency, you can give yourself permission to let go of any expectations of creating a set thing –just soak up the vibrant place, all the history that it holds, and see what happens.

IG – @SolsticeHandmade
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GSMNP Artist-in-Residence Program information

The deadline for the 2021 residency program is March 31. Click on the link to read about the GSMNP Artist-in-Residence Program and the application requirements. For more information, contact Ranger Sheridan Roberts, who coordinates the program.

Support the Artists-in-Residence Program

Friends of the Smokies provides the funding for the program, paying for lodging for the artists and up to $300 for art materials. You can support the Artist-in-Residence Program by making a donation.