Kathy Stark’s The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks provides an artful guide to our environs
“Art is the window to man’s soul,” former First Lady Claudia ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson said. “Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within.”
Man’s relationship with nature has always been a balancing act, and with technology making our immediate world so fraught with busyness, it can be difficult to turn our attention outward. But local artist Kathy Starks has created a project that both upholds Johnson’s quote and Stark’s own desire to “… create a window to the natural world through which the viewer has a heightened awareness of its beauty,” as described in her artist statement.
In a three-year-long project titled The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks, Stark has visited all of the city, state, and national parks and nature preserves in North Florida and created nineteen large-scale watercolor paintings showing their flora and scenic vistas. The paintings’ high contrast, saturated color and crisp detail not only draw our attention to the unique splendor to be found in a simple palmetto frond or twisting oak branch, but show us Stark’s soulful appreciation of these environments.
“For as long as I can remember, I have been keenly aware of and in awe of the world around me, the details of creation, the reflections of light, contrasts of texture, variance of color, the shape and form of my surroundings,” she says.
Stark has reproduced these paintings in an illustrated book, also titled The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks, an artistic guide book to our parks complete with sketchbook journal pages from her experiences, hand-painted maps, and smartly edited information on the spots and the nonprofit groups that help protect them. Stark’s paintings present nature with such majesty, and her book offers such rich information, the project as a whole beckons us to go out and explore, to find our own enrichment outside.
In partnership with the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, Stark’s project has culminated in an exhibition of both the original watercolors and the coordinating book pages from The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks, on view at the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) through May 28. Printed locally by Hartley Press, the book is on sale at local bookstores, outdoor shops like Black Creek Outfitters, and gift stores around the city, including at Jacksonville International Airport (JIA).
Not only is the book beautiful, it is easy to use, with a clarity to the artwork and an organizational logic that Stark describes as akin to her personality: “realistic, straightforward, positive, and authentic.” Stark uses downtown Jacksonville as a center point and highlights every single city, state, and national park or preserve within a one-hour drive of this point. A large watercolor map, a piece of art unto itself included as a fold-out section in the book and on display at the entrance to the exhibition, lays out this radial area. Stark includes illustrations across the map that harken to the adventures to be found within it. “I did this map wanting it to be inspirational, so I included images that would draw people in, so that they’d want to look further,” says Stark.
The Jacksonville area is home to the nation’s largest urban park system, made up of over 83,000 acres of city, state and national parks, preserves, conservation areas and forests. Stark is quick to point out that they all have a unique history. “Over 6,000 years of human history exist in our parks, too,” she describes in the exhibition materials, “ranging from prehistoric to present day and representing Timucuan Indians, Spanish and French explorers, an American Revolutionary War skirmish site, an antebellum plantation, a Civil War encampment and a World War I training camp.”
A Jacksonville native, Stark is a longtime visitor to these parks. She says she has spent many days alone in them, a fact that she admits is a double-edged sword. “Ultimately, that’s not good, because if people don’t know about them they’re not going to care about them and see the need to preserve them,” she says. “Plus people need to know about them because it’s a positive thing for our community, it’s our greatest asset and needs to be promoted.” She says different levels of government ownership and different nonprofits contributing to preservation and advocacy have led to scattered information on this vast park system. So her book consolidates the information and serves as an artful atlas.