An artist’s journey through Huntley Meadows Park
A place of calm and respite from noise and concrete. Sanctuary for people and wildlife.
This is what Huntley Meadows Park represents to visitors, both human and animal. This is what many of the artists who visit Huntley try to capture in the works that are featured in the park’s Norma Hoffman Visitor Center.
“From the first time I stepped foot on the trail, I thought this is a holy space,” said photographer Nina Tisara. “One foot in front of the other, step by slow step, each visit is a walking meditation. I used to carry my camera with me all the time. Now, most of the time, I just let the images fall on the silver lining of my gut. Digital photographers may not understand that analogy, but us old-timers will understand the magic that can come from light falling on film.”
Tisara is well known to Alexandrians as a photographer for her portrayals of the area’s residents and historic places. She staged an art show, her first at the park, at Huntley Meadows in 2003.
“Sanctuary is the name I called my photographic exhibition because Huntley Meadows was, and is, a personal sanctuary for me,” she said. The exhibit featured black and white photos of vine-covered trees at the park.
Shortly after that first show at Huntley Meadows, Tisara took her first class in mosaics. At that time, in the early 2000s, photography was becoming increasingly digital, and Tisara no longer kept a darkroom in her home. Photography lost a little of its magic for her, and mosaics captured her interest. She returns to Huntley Meadows Park this summer with a new show titled “Inspired by Nature” that is built around mosaics tied to feelings sparked by the park. Some of her mosaics initially were inspired by photographs taken at Huntley Meadows.
Many visitors to Huntley can’t tell you exactly when they first started going to the park, but they can tell you they’ve been returning to check in with nature for long periods of time. The park’s front desk hosts a log book where visitors write down anything they see and, if closely examined, the same handwritings appear over and over again. New and repeat visitors tell staff that Huntley allows them to enjoy new experiences and find deeper connections to nature. They leave the park feeling calmer and relaxed. Stepping away from their work lives and their commutes gives them a chance to de-stress and enjoy a blooming flower, a hunting heron, or a turtle sunning. Tisara is no exception to this. She keeps a digital journal and has written about walks at Huntley Meadows as far back as April 2000. Her journal entries from December 2001 speak to her captivation with nature and the images that landed in her mind from walking in the park:
December 4, 2001: I am grateful for this sunny morning. I am looking forward to trying to capture the vines “dancing” at Huntley Meadows Park. They seem to me like dancers.
December 5, 2001: Yesterday I walked again at Huntley Meadows, this time with my camera. I shot a couple of rolls of 120 black and white, mostly of “the dancers.”
December 9, 2001: I went to church in the morning. Then I re-shot the trees and vines at Huntley Meadows. I’m happy to have the chance to shoot the same scene again and again to adjust the exposure and I’d like to try it at different times of day and in different kinds of light. Fog would be nice. The fog shots turned out harder than I thought. I drove to the park one foggy morning but by the time I got there, there was no fog in the park. I went again with better luck.
In many ways, Tisara has come full circle. In May 2003, she wrote, “The best part of yesterday was a short walk through Huntley Meadows. I went to meet the woman who coordinates exhibits. Sanctuary will be there in July and August. I haven’t been to Huntley Meadows in a month at least. It was good to get back.”
Back she is, with the first mosaic show to be featured in the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center.
Quarterly art shows at Huntley Meadows Park are expressions of inspiration that foster connections with nature. The Norma Hoffman Visitor Center has hosted photographers, potters, painters, and other creative talents. Nina Tisara’s “Inspired by Nature,” the park’s first mosaic exhibit, will be at the center until August 31, 2017.
Author Halley Johnson is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at Huntley Meadows Park.