Samantha Metzner’s favorite piece of art she’s created as the 2022 Community Artist in the Parks is a landscape print depicting ruins at the Hovenweep National Monument. Her art form is a first for the Community Artist program: she creates cyanotypes, a light-sensitive photograph print, which she then watercolors.
“I think doing something new with the ruins was really fun for me,” she said. “And being able to really focus on the emotion of a place was new for me: Hovenweep is so peaceful and calm and quiet, and it has so much history … Things felt really intuitive, in terms of making that piece.”
The Community Artist in the Parks program began in 2009 as a way to “highlight the connection between local artists and the landscapes contained within the National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group,” according to the program; the group contains Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Only local artists residing in Grand, San Juan, or Montezuma County, are invited to apply—previous artists include Julia Buckwalter, Antonio Savarese, and Serena Supplee.
As this year’s Community Artist, Metzner is spending around 20 hours per month creating art in and about the parks, while also interacting with visitors. So far, Metzner has spent time in all four parks and monuments, creating her unique cyanotype prints of iconic rock forms such as Delicate Arch, Park Avenue, and Aztec Butte.
“I’m really enjoying getting out there and talking to some of the visitors,” she said. She’s been having “genuine and lovely” interactions with visitors, which reminds her of the importance of her role as the Community Artist, she said—she recalled when one family brought their own watercolors to Arches National Park to paint with and learn from Metzner.
“And I really am enjoying pushing and challenging myself to continue to make work in the parks, and see what new things I can come up with,” she said.
Metzner’s process for making art has a few stages. Typically, she’ll spend a few hours scouting locations and taking photographs on her camera—once she has one she likes, she’ll make a print at home. Then, when she’s back in the park, she’ll overlay the print with watercolor in a “plein air” style of painting—painting done in the outdoors, as opposed to in a studio. This is the first time she’s ever really experimented with the plein air style, she said.
A few challenges come with painting outside, though: namely, the elements. Metzner spent most of May battling the wind, she said, and now, it’s the bugs and the heat. But she’s enjoying “rolling with it”—she’s figuring out the best times and places to paint which also allow her to have interactions with visitors.
“I’m getting into the groove of things,” she said. “I’m trying to push myself to see what I can do with these scenes—there’s obviously a lot of scenes that a lot of other people have done. I think it’s fun pushing myself to see what I can bring to the table.”
Metzner has about four months left in the program, which ends in October. Her works are sold in the Canyonlands Natural History Association bookstores and in the visitor centers at Arches and Canyonlands national parks. When the program is over, she said, she thinks she’ll continue with the plein air style of painting she’s been learning.
“I think it’s really important to be on location, rather than just looking at a reference photo,” Metzner said. “There are so many more things you can notice.”