For the Love of Trees

March 1, 2013 | By More

Artist Linda William Palmer is a “tree hugger” in the best sense. The 70-year-old artist does not picket to preserve nature; she protects the biggest trees in Arkansas by preserving their magnificent presence in colored pencil drawings.

“I have always been inspired by trees, so when I read about the big trees on the Arkansas Champion Tree List and the National Big Tree index, I naturally wanted to track as many down as possible and create drawings or paintings of them,” said Palmer, whose striking works of art are touring the state in a one-woman art exhibit “Arkansas Champion Trees; An Artist’s Journey.”

A tomboy as a child, Palmer grew up on a farm in eastern Oklahoma.

“There was a wooded area in front of our house and I would play for hours in the woods; daydreaming, making up songs and singing and drawing landscapes; always under the magical trees.”

Palmer said she didn’t “even know there was such a thing as an artist” until later in high school as the school she attended did not have an art program at the time. Fortunately, her high school friend’s mother had a studio in her garage and was painting. “I was just in awe and said, Oh, this is what I want to do someday!”

In the meantime, Palmer took music since it was offered in her school and went to college on a vocal scholarship, got married and became a busy mother.

It wasn’t until Palmer reached her 30’s, that her dream to study art became a reality. Once Palmer’s children were in school and she had a couple of free hours every day, she enrolled in one class a semester at West Ark Community College, now U of A at Ft. Smith.

“Taking art class felt like doors had opened. I liked music, but art was my love. I took every art class I could for the next 5 yrs., many of them twice.”

Palmer uses Prismacolor colored pencils because they are “transparent, easily layered and very versatile.” The large drawings in her exhibit took from four to six weeks each to complete because she said her process is slow.

“I first draw a graphite pencil drawing and then start in with the colored pencils. I layer them color over color to build up the colors found in nature.”

Although Palmer is not a tree expert, she is learning more about trees as she goes. “I read everything about trees I can find and collect books on trees, and even received books on trees as Christmas presents,” she said.

Finding these big trees is a lot harder than just looking through books, however. That’s where her adventurous tomboy spirit comes out. Palmer said she has logged more than 7,000 miles all over Arkansas in search of these magnificent specimens, armed with a only a camera, note pad and a friend or two to navigate the way. Many times she also had to ask foresters in the area to help her find the trees.

Once Palmer locates a Champion Tree, she takes from 30 to 40 photographs of the tree from all view points and distances. Then she travels back to her studio in Hot Springs to work on the large paper drawings, using combinations of the photos for her compositions.

Palmer’s work is not strictly limited to trees, however. She is also a prolific landscape painter and has an art gallery, Linda Palmer Studio/Gallery on Central Avenue in Hot Springs National Park.

“Arkansas Champion Trees : An Artist’s Journey” has been touring the state since September 2012 and shows will continue through December 2014. The exhibit features 18 large colored pencil drawings, smaller detailed drawings of the foliage, documentary photographs and a written explanation of each piece.

The exhibit will be at the Stephens Gallery at University of Ozarks in the Walton Fine Arts Center through April 20, 2013. Admission is free. For gallery hours or other inquiries, email the Ozarks Humanities and Fine Arts Division or telephone them at (479) 979-1349.

You can also contact Palmer directly through her websites: lindawilliamspalmer.com and championtreesexhibit.org.

Arkansas Champion Trees: An Artist’s Journey is made possible through generous contributions by sponsors The Plum Creek Foundation, DOMDAR and the Williams-Palmer Family and medalist sponsorsRobynandJohnHorn,withindividualdonationsfromthose who appreciate the arts, education, and Arkansas’ Champion Trees.

The exhibit is organized for travel by the Arkansas Committee for the National Museum of Women in the Arts and is supported in part by the Arkansas Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and by the National Endowment for the Arts.

A television documentary on Palmer and the Champion Trees of Arkansas has also been done by AETN in Little Rock. The documentary will be aired later this year.

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