Artist’s printmaking is ‘inspired by small moments of beauty’ in GSMNP

April 16, 2021

  • Kathy McGhee's Heartleaf Foamflower silkscreen print

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. Kathy McGhee was one of the artists in 2019 and shares her experiences in this post. The deadline for applying for the 2021 residency has been extended to April 30.

by Kathy McGhee

I am primarily a printmaker, and my printmaking is inspired by the natural world.

Kathy McGhee at Ramsey Cascades

During Kathy McGhee’s hikes, such as this hike to Ramsey Cascades, she collected images to use in her art projects.

During my stay at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was engaged in collecting and creating images for my artwork as well as working directly on my projects.

‘small moments of beauty’

In my exploration of the park, I took many digital photographs and made sketches from which I created a new body of work inspired by my observations.

These images consist of small moments of beauty and of relationships existing between plants as well as the earth.

I am intrigued not only by the experience of being in nature but also of the visual patterns created as organisms coexist.

An important aspect of my time in GSMNP consisted of image gathering and deciding which of these images or compilations of images would become prints.

For the work from the residency, I have been primarily creating silkscreen prints.

Silkscreen printing process

The process involved work I did while at the park and work I did in my home studio after the residency.

For each print, I drew transparencies of color layers and then put each layer into a screen using a photo emulsion.

The actual printing took place in a printmaking studio or lab, but I was able to create many of the transparencies for the layers of the prints while at the residency.

Kathy McGhee transparencies hanging in cabin

Transparencies that Kathy McGhee created during her residency hang in the Artist in Residence cabin where she stayed.


After returning to my home, I continued to work from the images I had created at the park to produce additional layers and drawings.

Each layer of planned color is drawn on a separate transparency. These transparencies are then printed in layers to create a finished image — green, then blue, then yellow, then white/cream, pink, purple and tan layers.

Kathy McGhee Mountain Stonecrop first layer

Mountain Stonecrop 2- Each layer of color required a separate transparency and then a separate printing. This image shows two colors printed. Green was printed first and then blue.

I attended the residency while I was on my sabbatical. I work at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio. An objective of my sabbatical was to use the time afforded to me to conduct research for personal projects and to use that research in the completion of a series of prints.

To do this research, I applied to National Park artist residencies. The Great Smoky Mountains was my first choice. I was therefore ecstatic to hear that I had been accepted and was able to attend in high summer, a time of lush growth. I also had a residency at Badlands National Park.

Artists bring art to park visitors & participate in public programming

As part of the National Park residencies, artists in residence are considered park volunteers and required to participate in public programming.

Children use foam blocks to create prints of animals and animal footprints at GSMNP

Children use foam blocks to create prints of animals and animal footprints during an art activity led by Kathy McGhee. NPS photo

For the Great Smoky Mountains, I gave an artist’s presentation at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a talk to the Park Volunteers (where I shared my portfolio), and a day of interacting with the public at one of the visitor centers.

For the visitor center experience, I prepared linoleum relief prints of animals and their corresponding life-size footprints.  The idea was for visitors of all ages to play a matching game with these blocks and then print them.

I brought printing foam for people to create their own blocks. No gouges are required for this material.

I additionally supplied a portable silkscreen unit. With the silkscreen unit, I was able to print and to have visitors print coloring book pages and patches of plant species found within the park.

The park programming required artists to bring art to the visitors while addressing the educational parameters for the park. The interaction with the public went extremely well. I had participants ranging from 3 years old to people in their 60s.

I was able to use the materials I had created for my residency in workshops I led in Columbus. I still have the materials – blocks and screen images, and I would be open to other such opportunities.

Many inspiring experiences during my residency

I had many inspiring experiences during my residency. I met a great many wonderful people while I was out in the park. While hiking and conducting image research, I walked with and spoke to many other park visitors.

Some were new to the park and others were frequent visitors. These conversations were rewarding, and many of the visitors shared their favorite hikes with me and spoke of their experiences in the park.

In regards to the National Park Residencies, I  would absolutely participate in another. It was everything I had hoped for, and I highly recommend it to other artists.

Website – https://kathymcghee.weebly.com/
Instagram –  kathy_mcghee

Presentations about NPS artist residencies

I gave an artist presentation about my experiences in both my GSMNP residency and my Badlands National Park residency to the intermediate and advanced printmaking courses at Columbus College of Art & Design. I also was a presenter at a Faculty-to-Faculty artist talk via Zoom at CCAD and shared the work I created during my residencies.

Exhibitions from work created during my artist-in-residencies and sabbatical

Work that I created during my GSMNP Artist in Residency has been part of a number of exhibitions I’ve had following my sabbatical. Those events have included:


Information about the GSMNP Artist-in-Residence Program

The deadline for the 2021 residency program is April 30. 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 — GRSM_Volunteer_Office@nps.gov

Support the Artist-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.