Wilderness artist works both exciting and engaging

Wilderness artist works both exciting and engaging

Artist brings area parks and woods indoors

An artist and devoted lover of the outdoors, Kathy Stark doesn’t have to choose between the two. She spends as much time hiking and kayaking as she does in front of the canvas.
Her two passions are coming together in Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks, a multi-faceted arts project designed to drive more people to Jacksonville’s 30 city, state and federal parks and help preserve the area’s natural resources.

Starks’s paintings, now on exhibit at the  Southlight Gallery in downtown Jacksonville, are so vast you can almost step into them.

Starks’s paintings, now on exhibit at the
Southlight Gallery in downtown Jacksonville,
are so vast you can almost step into them.

“What she’s doing through her wonderful talents is to highlight these parks to the public,” said Richard Skinner, an architect and chairman of the board of directors of the Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to protect local parks through education, eco-tourism and fundraising. “The beauty of it is that people can go to the places she is

Collectively, Jacksonville’s parks contain roughly 80,000 acres and comprise the biggest park system in the country. Stark finds unique beauty in each of them and hopes the effort will inspire people to visit the region’s wild and beautiful parks and experience nature for themselves.

Having recently participated in One Spark, a crowd funding festival in downtown Jacksonville, Stark was dismayed to talk admirers of her watercolor paintings who had heard never set foot in places like Tillie Fowler Regional Park, a 509-acre park off Roosevelt Boulevard.

“This park is so close to us,” Stark said. “So many people right nearby have never been there.”

Many people she talked to at One Spark hadn’t heard of environmental organizations like the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation and North Florida Land Trust, groups that Stark hopes to boost and receive support from.

Starks’s paintings, now on exhibit at the Southlight Gallery in downtown Jacksonville, are so vast you can almost step into them. Her highly detailed style emphasizes the pine trees’ gnarly, reticulated surface and captures bursts of sunlight bouncing off palm fronds and sparkling on ferns.

Her watercolors aren’t the soft washes typical of that medium. Instead, Stark uses bold, pumped up colors and a dense overlay of brush strokes to portray the woods.
“She brings those landscapes to life,” said John Ragsdale, chairman of the board of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, a citizens group that works to keep the St. Johns River and its tributaries and wetlands clean and healthy.

Ragsdale is Stark’s project advisor and is helping her organize ideas and raise money. He’s known Stark about 25 years and said he’s seen her work blossom,
especially since she began producing large-scale outdoor pieces.

“It’s a great tie into our work,” Ragsdale said. “I think it’s a wonderful approach, using art to engage people with the environment.”

With Ragsdale’s help, Stark is developing a three-phase business plan that combines her art with traveling exhibits, and interactive games, contests and sketchbook journals for each of the parks.

First she wants to complete five large-scale watercolor paintings of four of the parks. She’s also creating sketchbook journal pages for those parks and for the three non-profit groups.
Then she plans to build a website, Facebook page and a traveling exhibit with her prints and map depicting the 30 parks for libraries, schools, museums and other busy public venues. As part of that phase, she will work with Wayne Wood, a Riverside-based historian, preservationist and author of a dozen books, to publish a coffee table book containing the paintings and sketchbook journals. She may also develop a guidebook that children and families could take with them to the parks.

Finally, she wants to get children excited about the parks with computer templates that will help them draw and write their own sketchbook journals. Other concepts include interactive games like a virtual geocache with coordinates for the site that’s the subject of the watercolor painting and visitor contests involving snapshots to prove they were there and earn points toward prizes.

To fund the project, Stark will seek community grants through sources like the Community Foundation and the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. She also plans to approach community philanthropists and perhaps even do a Kickstarter campaign, an online funding platform for creative projects.

“I’m drawn to nature and the beauty of our world,” Stark said. “It recharges me, inspires me. I just can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Stark’s Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks is now on exhibit at the Southlight Gallery, on the second floor of the Dyal Upchurch Building at 6 E. Bay St. The building is at the corner of Main Street and Bay Street, at the foot of the Main Street Bridge. For more information on the gallery, visit www.southlightgallery.com or call (904) 438-4358.
Kathy Stark can be reached through her email at kartstark@bellsouth.net.

By Caren Burmeister
Resident Community News

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