GSMNP’s ‘beautiful water’ inspires art quilter Nancy Hershberger

February 12, 2021

Nancy Hershberger applies Tsukineko Ink to her Water Dance quilt

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. Nancy Hershberger 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 Nancy Hershberger

Nancy Hershberger applies Tsukineko Ink to her Water Dance quilt
Nancy Hershberger applies Tsukineko Inks to add light and shadow to Water Dance 4 Oconaluftee.

I appreciate the opportunity to write about how Great Smoky Mountains National Park influenced me as an artist.

I am an art quilter/fiber artist. I make art quilts using fabric and thread.

Constructed the same way as our grandmothers’ quilts, my work consists of three layers — a top, batting and backing.

Then I stitch it together with a sewing machine. Unlike our grandmothers’ quilts, my quilts are made to be viewed on the wall as art.

Acceptance as an Artist in Residence at Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the thrill of a lifetime!

Little did I know that the experience would change the direction of my work and provide inspiration for years to come.

I live in the Allegheny Mountains, a part of Appalachia, so I figured I knew what to expect in the Smokies — beautiful mountain vistas and beautiful people with accents impossible to understand.

Upon arrival at the park, I was surprised to find that those beautiful mountain vistas were not just beautiful, they were spectacular.

And the beautiful people were the very definition of the word — friendly, proud, generous and kind. They were also from everywhere! I did not know that GSMNP attracted vacationers from all over the world.

Beautiful people and vistas aside, the Park revealed its most inspiring element one quiet moment while I was driving to Clingmans Dome.

Dancing water

Water danced and flowed along every twist and turn in the road. The water gurgled and flowed and sparkled. The water rested in small pools so clear you could count the pebbles on the bottom.

That water changed the direction of my work.

I had tried “doing” water a few times over the years to not much success. So I moved on to landscapes and still life images devoid of water.

Nancy Hershberger's Water Dance 5 art quilt
Water Dance 5 – Summer’s End, 42″ x 53″

But the water at GSMNP was so incredibly beautiful that it demanded attention.

Inspiration, fabric, thread and determination came together to produce “Water Dance,” the series.

That inspiration continues two years later. Now I am not only “doing” water, but also teaching it to other art quilters.

I strongly recommend all artists apply to GSMNP residency program.

Artists look at things differently — finding as much inspiration in a sunset as a wildflower. But we don’t always have the time to focus on our work.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a deep appreciation for the Arts and the park provides, through its Artist in Residence program, the greatest gift to anyone, the gift of time.


You can learn more about Nancy Hershberger and her art on her Facebook artist page.

Information about the GSMNP Artist-in-Residence Program: 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.