When artist Kathy Stark first decided to set up a One Spark booth downtown in 2013, she did so with one goal in mind: She would use the crowd-funding festival as a self-imposed deadline to create a body of work she could show potential supporters.
But that simple goal would soon turn lofty as Stark considered just what she’d been doing over the course of the few years leading to that moment. Her subject matter had taken a decidedly nature-oriented turn as the artist looked increasingly to the city’s natural monuments for inspiration. The idea of creating a book then struck naturally. Stark’s new goal would be to compile a series of sketchbook journal entries and paintings to blend art and education.
Four years later, Stark’s work has culminated into a campaign. She released her book, “The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks,” on Feb. 23, coinciding with her exhibition launch as artist-in-residence at Jacksonville’s Museum of Science and History (MOSH). Her series of large-scale watercolor paintings and sketches will adorn the walls of the museum until September, but Stark is adamant about creating an exhibition that travels with a meaningful message.
“The festival had motivated me to keep building content right up until last the summer, when I really worked hard on filling the book,” she said. “It’s a nice message – it’s saying ‘here’s all these parks around Jacksonville, now pay attention to the concerns of our environment.’ We need to preserve these lands and speak up for our state, not pave it over.”
More than just a picture book, “The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks” is Stark’s heartfelt bid to raise awareness of the natural wonders on the First Coast. It includes her own journal entries logged in park preserves, conservation areas and forests within an hour’s drive of Downtown Jacksonville. Sites like Guana, Nocatee’s Greenway Trails and Cradle Creek Preserve are among the 19 illustrations in the book, a complete resource of all 60 parks in Jacksonville and its surrounding area. With the book’s publication and exhibit, she ultimately hopes to increase awareness of the parks’ existence and encourage people to preserve them.
“It took a lot of research to even find a lot of these places,” the artist recalled. “I illustrated a map and included it in the book with Downtown Jacksonville at the center to … localize the places in the book. People look at that map and say to me, ‘I didn’t even know these places existed.’ So I hope it can act as a one-stop resource for people who want to know more about our nature and its history.”
Stark’s efforts have seen her establishing a formal relationship with Timucuan Parks Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and promoting Timucuan Parks that Stark had long supported. She now acts as the foundation’s first fine artist in its newly launched “Artists for the Parks” series. Corporate partner Merrill Lynch, which funded the printing of her book and her exhibit at MOSH, will donate more than 300 hardback copies of “The Wilderness of North Florida’s Parks” to libraries throughout the four counties (Duval, St. Johns, Clay and Nassau) that are included in the book. In the future, she expects to see her exhibit in the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts and the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach. Her book can be found at North Guana Outpost and at her website, www.kathystark.com.
In the meantime, as she promotes her book and exhibit, the artist wants to inspire the community at large to experience the city’s expansive park systems – a goal that became increasingly important to her as she traveled all 60 parks by foot, bike, canoe and kayak.
“If people don’t know about these parks, they won’t get any support,” she said. “If you don’t grow that awareness, people won’t know to protect them. I want to build that interest, get people away from their phones and laptops and get them outside again.
“I hope people walk (into my exhibit) and that something will catch their eye so that they’ll be interested in investigating it further,” Stark continued. “Maybe they’ll be inspired to nurture their own creativity in a way that allows them to appreciate and support our parks, too.”
Kathy Stark’s MOSH exhibit will be on display until September, extended from its original end-date of May 29. MOSH is located at 1025 Museum Circle in Jacksonville. For more information, visit www.themosh.org.