Park Ranger Finds Artistic Inspiration At Ridgefield's Weir Farm

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Seasonal National Park Ranger and artist Mary Ellen Hackett will speak about her art and display her work Monday at the Wilton Library. Photo Credit: Karen Tensa
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mary Ellen Hackett
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mary Ellen Hackett
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mary Ellen Hackett

RIDGEFIELD/WILTON, Conn. -- For the month of January, seasonal National Park Ranger and artist Mary Ellen Hackett has found a home away from home at Weir Farm National Historic Park in Ridgefield/Wilton.

Hackett, a Long Island native, is the artist in residence this month at the park, the onetime home of J. Alden Weir. She is living and painting at the park, finding her inspiration from the same landscape as the 19th-century Impressionist namesake painter.

"This program, being here for a month, it gives me that connection to Weir and to that tradition of American painting," said Hackett, a graduate of Aldephi University with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. She has a style all her own, though.

"I paint from life, I work quickly and I don't fuss," said Hackett, who works in gouache paint on paper to produce her small paintings.

Working quickly has been an asset for Hackett, who has been living and working at Weir Farm during a snowy, deep freeze.

"I've been working by looking out the windows sometimes," she said of her work, which includes landscapes of stark trees, newly fallen snow, and the trademark stonewalls. "I've done about a quarter of these outside," pointing to a collection of recently completed work tacked on the walls of her temporary studio.

Her background in still life is clear in her work, with the object and details forefront. The landscapes pick out shades and reflected colors in the snow, and the stonewalls and trees take on clear shapes. Pale colors from the quick-drying gouache define the wintry scenes.

The gouache, which comes in small tubes, is a perfect choice for Hackett, who works outside both professionally and artistically.

"I pack my art supplies and hike in and hike out," she said of her work at large National Parks in the West. "My bag of oils weighs 25 pounds. It is too much added weight and would take too long to dry." 

Hackett has worked as a ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona,  Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and Yosemite National Park in California. She has completed artist-in-residency programs at Joshua Tree National Park in California  and at the Vermont Studio Center.

In her dual eclectic roles as artist and park ranger, she has developed her artistic style as well as her backcountry skills and knowledge of topics ranging from dinosaur tracks to bear safety. "I paint to document my experiences in different landscapes and to share my view of a place with those who may never travel to it."

Hackett will speak and present a collection of her paintings to the public from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, at the Wilton Library. 

For more information Hackett and her work, visit her website at maryellenhackett.com. For more information on the artist-in-residence program at Weir Farm National Historic Park, visit its website

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