A Reston Photographer Spent His Summer as a National Park Artist-in-Residence

Did you know that the National Park Service offers a program to host artists so they can create art, music, or books in beautiful locations? I didn’t, either. It sounds amazing, and I’d love to be able to take part in this program. One Reston artist had that chance earlier this summer. This year marks the Centennial of the National Park Service (NPS), which turns 100 on August 25, 2016. There couldn’t be a more perfect summer for Reston photographer Jim Schlett to honor the NPS as one of their selected Artists-in-Residence.

Jim is a lifelong photographer and the current president of the League of Reston Artists. He used to work for the U.S. Postal Service, and also did freelance photography work with portraits, weddings, and a commercial studio. He is now retired and refocusing his time back toward his love of photography. “I enjoy the whole process of ‘finding’ photos,” Jim commented. “Ansel Adams once said something to the effect that a great photograph is finding the right place to stand.”


Barn and Field View: “The bright flowers along this trail made a great contrast to the field and barn in the distance. This was taken up near the historic area of the park, which showed how life over the years had changed in this community. This area also contained an old gold mine, long since closed down. We met Larry Davis, a professional goat grazer at this site, that the park service employs to have his goats maintain vast fields of vegetation, including one along side of the barn.” –Jim Schlett

Among Jim’s favorite places to “find” photos are the National Parks, and he has visited many over the past 40 years. When he learned about the Artist-in-Residence program, he was intrigued. This program offers residency positions at about 50 National Parks, with the goal of providing artists opportunities to find inspiration in some of the country’s most beautiful locations. There are programs for visual artists, writers, musicians, and other creative media.

Jim researched the program and the parks that offer it. Most of the parks have an application process that requires an artist’s resume, a project proposal, and a portfolio. The competition is keen, as the NPS received hundreds of applications each year for a very limited number of openings.

“I was selected for Whiskeytown AIR by a Curator from the de Young Museum of Fine Arts in San Francisco,” Jim recalled. He was assigned to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in California.  “This experience was so great and meaningful for my continued development as an artist, that I will be applying for additional Artist-In-Residence programs in 2017.”


Manzanita Tree Grove: “This was my first time seeing these trees. They are everywhere in the park and create a very moody effect to many images depending on the time of day. The tree groves makes for perfect passageways on many of the trails. This tree also has a unique bark that peels away from the tree in various colors and makes for most interesting abstract photos.” — Jim Schlett

I spoke with Jim Schlett about his experiences as an Artist-in-Residence and some of his favorite photographs from his adventure.

Modern Reston: Had you ever been to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area before? What was your impression of this park?

Jim Schlett: Although I have been to California many times, I had not heard of, let alone been to Whiskeytown before this trip. It is located about 3 1/2 hours north of San Francisco and about 10 miles west of the town of Redding. This park is what I would describe as a real hidden gem among our national parks. It was created as part of “water projects” for the state of California, and offers something for everyone. President John F. Kennedy was there at dedication ceremonies just a few months before his death in 1963.

The park has an historic area related to the Gold Rush days, four large spectacular waterfalls, mountains, a huge lake for boating, kayaking, swimming, and 72 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. There are also a number of other near-by attractions including Lassen and Lava Bed National Parks, as well as Mount Shasta and some ghost towns.

After sharing my photos of this trip with many of my friends and artists, I have been told that they have added Whiskeytown to their bucket lists.


Manzanita Tree Study: “The bark on the tree peels back in short, colorful patterns and creates great abstracts. Once the bark peels completely off, what remains turns a dark purple color that also makes for great moody images.” –Jim Schlett

How long were you there, and how did you spend your time there?

My wife, Gail was with me. We were in California for three weeks and spent most of that time at Whiskeytown. Every day, we hiked 7-10 miles within the park, taking photos. We spent afternoons swimming at the lake, which was just a short walk down from the cabin that the park provided the artist-in-resident. I also attempted to capture sunsets at the lake most evenings, which were stunning with the glow on the clouds and water after the sun had set.

We managed to meet so many interesting people at the park, including the Park Superintendent and his Assistant, Jim Milestone and Tommie Scherf, as well as numerous park employees and volunteers. Everyone seemed to have great stories about their connections to the park. The Shasta Astronomy Clubs also sponsored a wonderful evening, setting up and sharing several large telescopes to track the moon and a number of the planets. That evening with no cloud cover, the sky is so clear that the views were spectacular, and we were able to actually watch the International Space Station fly by.


After Sunset, East Beach: “This park has a beautiful made-made Whiskeytown Lake with 36 miles of shoreline, and I tried to explore a small portion each day. On many evenings, we went to the East Beach as the sun set across the lake in the distant mountains. The sunsets were stunning, and often up to 30 minutes after the sunset they presented incredible colors in the sky, water, and distant mountains that made each evening very memorable.” — Jim Schlett

How many photos did you take, and how will they be used?

We had great weather each day, so I generally managed to take at least 100 photos for a total of over 1,500 images. I took pictures on all of the hikes, waterfalls, creeks, flowers, sunsets, and of park visitors and rangers.

I am hoping to use a number of images for future exhibitions as well as donating images to the Park for their permanent art collection, as well as future public relations venues for Whiskeytown National Park and the Friends of Whiskeytown organization. I am also hoping to create a photo book about this AIR adventure for future venues with the National Park Service.


Clouds Over Whiskeytown Lake: “The Park Superintendent, Jim Milestone, and I discussed the park and some of his experiences on the afternoon of my arrival. He explained his initial interest in the National Parks by way of trips his family took many times to Yosemite National Park. He also mentioned Ansel Adams and seemed to know a great deal about him, including meeting him many years ago. After taking my photos as color images, I sometimes go back in the review process and see which might make for more dramatic photos as B/W and this one fit the bill. It was also the image that Mr. Milestone selected for the park’s art collection and might indicated Ansel Adams’ influence on both Jims.” — Jim Schlett

Photo credit for all photos: Jim Schlett

You can see more photos of Jim Schlett’s adventure here: Whiskeytown Artist-in-Residence. And you can find his complete online collection of photography here: photomanva.zenfolio.com

His work is currently on exhibit in office building lobbies at 1835 and 1851 Alexander Bell Drive in Reston. The exhibit is open during normal business hours until October 1, 2016.

You can also follow him on Facebook, where he posts a few photos per week: Jim Schlett

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