NE Explorer Sue Wolfe: NPS AIR Program
Like me, this may be your first time hearing about the NPS AIR program. NPS AIR stands for National Park Service Artist-in-Residence. One of our longstanding Explorers and personal friends, Sue Wolfe, found some large gaps in her photography travel schedule this year, so she took it upon herself to give NPS AIR a try. This will be the first of several installments detailing Sue’s experience while in the AIR program. We hope you enjoy her journey 🙂
NPS AIR: Padre Island National Seashore
by Sue Wolfe
INSTALLMENT #1: How did it all start?
On a Saturday afternoon in September, I suddenly realized there were large gaps in my photography travel schedule for the coming year. As I was trying to come up with a plan I remembered an article published a few years ago, about artists in residence. I headed to the NPS website to check out the possibilities. Perfect timing—applications were being accepted for 2018. Looking at the map I was surprised to see an option in Texas—Padre Island National Seashore.
With a couple of clicks I found myself at the PAIS info page. Initially, I was intimidated by the AIR process. I did not have a résumé, nor had I ever given thought to drafting an Artist Statement. I quickly realized if I wanted to be considered it was going to require some work on my part. “I want to, it would be fun, etc.,” was not going to cut it.
Step 1: Research! I had never visited Padre Island and quite honestly did not know much about it. I read the PAIS website, watched a video on YouTube featuring my potential new “supervisor,” and scoured the Internet for materials that would give me some sense of what the Park had to offer. I soon learned that 90% of the Park’s visitors use only 10% of the Park. Did you know that PAIS is the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island? It is 70 miles of coastline, dunes, and prairie. A Spanish priest, Padre Nicolas Balli, established the first settlement, and for the most part the island has functioned as a cattle ranch. Do not confuse North Padre and South Padre—these are two completely different worlds. South Padre is full of hotels, shopping, restaurants, and tourists. North Padre is all about turtles, birds, windsurfing, fishing, camping, shelling, and solitude.
Step 2: Come up with a plan to differentiate myself from all the other applicants. This took some thought. As I worked through the process I realized it wasn’t about promoting my work—it was about showcasing the park. What better way to do that than to visit throughout the year? Most AIRs visit for a defined period of time (a few days up to three months) and move on. With PAIS less than four hours away, I was sure I could commit to visiting at least once a month. This would allow me to photograph the Park’s special events as well as cover the many “faces” of this National Seashore.
Step 3: Complete the Application, select pictures for my Portfolio, write an Artist Statement, and wait! It was a long two weeks. When I received the “you’ve been selected” email I felt like a senior who had just received their acceptance letter to the college of their choice. As I shared the good news with my office, there were more than a few confused looks. Was I quitting and moving to Corpus Christi? I assured them I would still be there to keep everyone headed in the same direction, but at least for 12 weekends of 2018 they would find me at the shore!
My first trip to PAIS was all about the turtles. PAIS is known for its Sea Turtle Science and Recovery Division—the only division of its kind in the entire National Park Service system. I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with Dr. Donna Shaver, Chief Biologist. This incredible woman has dedicated her life to sea turtle conservation. During the summer months, several thousand Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released to start their journey in the warm waters of the Gulf. This year, my intro to sea turtles came early. Sea turtles at PAIS have experienced three different “cold stunning” events due to the unseasonably cold winter. Through the efforts of the NPS and its partners, 238 green sea turtles were rescued in December. More than 2,000 were rescued the first week of January, and as I write this blog, the NPS and volunteers are once again out patrolling the water and beaches of the Laguna Madre looking for turtles to rescue, rehabilitate, and release.
Stay tuned for PAIS AIR Part 2 coming soon!!