Q & A with National Park Painter Patricia Cummins

The magnificence of our national parks can be experienced in countless ways. Some visitors are content to quietly stand before the greatness of the parks and commit the moment to memory. Others capture the moment with a camera, hoping to relive that sensation each time they look upon the photo. And for others, like Patricia Rottino Cummins, they commit themselves to immortalizing the beauty of the parks’ colors and views through their talented sketches and paintings.

We recently chatted with Patricia about her career and her love of the national parks.

Q: How long have you been an artist?
A: I can remember paintings and drawings I completed in kindergarten; I’ve always had a connection to art. Having gained recognition through art at the age of five, I continued my passion, studied art, and have taught art for the past thirty-six years.

Q: What inspires you about national parks?
A: Growing up in New York City, I developed an early appreciation for the local park, Forest Park, in Queens. Famed landscape architect and Central Park creator Frederick Olmsted designed Forest Park's main drive on the eastern side of the park. It was there that I first sketched en plein air (in the open air), and attended a private art school called, "The Forest Park School of Art.”

After relocating to South Florida, I raised a family and traveled a bit, exposing our children to national parks during winter breaks and summer vacations, whenever possible. Ten years ago I opened a studio at ArtSouth, an artist community between Biscayne and Everglades National Parks, in Homestead, Florida. At ArtSouth, I created my first national park-inspired paintings. The color of the landscape is intense and unforgettable.

Q: What was your most challenging national park painting?
A: My past residency at Acadia National Park was the most challenging. For 21 days, I was immersed in trying to capture the feeling of the place. Painting on Cadillac Mountain was chilly and windy for this Miami artist! I felt it was the right place to paint because from its summit, I viewed places I had sailed, hiked, painted, and lived for three weeks. Schoodic Peninsula was better understood viewing it from the top of Cadillac Mountain. It was the place where I felt most connected to the park.

Q: Which national park paintings are you most proud of?
A: I am most proud of the painting and body of work that I created at Petrified Forest National Park. It was an emotionally challenging time for me. My late husband had passed just four months before serving my residency there. Being alone and painting in the desert for two weeks helped me to heal. My work was loose and the colors were fresh. The landscape was so completely new to me, unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was my first experience in a desert environment.

Q: What is your best national park memory?
A: The last three weeks of my residency at Acadia National Park are fresh in my mind. I had never been to Maine before and my residency was just so exciting. I paint flowers a lot... and there were so many in Maine. Always new ones blooming, even in just the three weeks that I was there new blossoms greeted me weekly. I got to go on a whale watch, and see fin whales, seal, and puffin. I had a wonderful studio in which to create a few larger pieces, and I worked extremely hard, painting, photographing, editing a slide lecture, and exploring the park.

Maine is a wonderful state. The last day there I visited Wonderland, the southernmost tip of Mount Desert Island. The fog made it even more wonderful.

Q: Of the national parks you’ve visited so far, which national park has proven to be your favorite?
A: I spent the least amount of time at Yosemite. It was there that I drove through the park to El Capitan. I parked the car, then sat and leaned against a large boulder and did a small pastel of the view of the granite monolith in the distance. There was something very spiritual about that moment for me. Hours seemed liked minutes. I was at Yosemite only for a day, driving from a residency at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to try and see what I could see in just a few hours. The falls, the granite monolith and the beauty of that park, along with the time spent doing that pastel, have left a lasting impression on me.

Q: What national parks are you most excited to visit in the future?
A: I enjoy painting outdoors... any new inspiring landscapes. I would love to go to Wyoming. I have never been there. I would also like to see more of Utah and its national parks.

Q: Do you have any tips about planning or making a trip to national parks?
A: The park websites have great information. Maps, cultural, historical information, plant, and animal listings are found on those pages. It's a good way to research and preview what you will see.

Q: Is there anything else about the national parks you’d like to tell us?
A: I have been connected with parks since I was a young child, living just one block away from Forest Park, in New York City. My earliest and fondest family memories are of family gatherings at Valley Stream State Park, Long Island. At any park, I feel at home, connected to our planet and its wondrous gifts.

The National Park System has been a gracious host and muse for my talent; it’s allowed me to reconnect with my wonderfully free early childhood memories. The parks have also exposed me to our country’s varied park visitor population and breathtaking landscapes. Painting, lecturing, and conducting interpretive workshops across our nation has enlightened me about the diversity of our county’s landscape, as well as its people. I am a better person and artist as a result of my national park experiences.

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Patricia Rottino Cummins enjoys traveling and has painted on location in China, France, Italy, and Central America, as well as at various national and Florida state parks. Landscape is her inspiration; plein air oil and pastel paintings are her medium. She is extremely proud that she has had the honor to have served ten national park residencies. Learn more about Patricia at patcummins.com.