Manassas National Battlefield ready for its close-up, Mr. Schlett

Jim Schlett will have two weeks at the park, taking pictures as an artist-in-residence.

Photo by Jim Schlett

The Civil War was one of the first major American historical events to be documented with the camera. That makes it a nice bit of symmetry local-photographer Jim Schlett will serve as the first photographer for the two-year-old Artist-in-Residence program at Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of the First and Second Battle of Bull Run. Schlett will be on site for two weeks from the end of July into August, at the end of which he will donate an art piece to the park.

“When they set up most of the initial national parks out west, back in the 1880s, ’90s and turn of the century, one of the ways they got people out there was through communications of paintings and photographs,” says Schlett. In his experience visiting national parks, that idea still rings true for many who make a trip to any one of the 400-plus national parks across the country.

That thinking was what initially led Manassas to create its artist-in-residence program back in 2016. Kaitlyn Parness was brought on as a park biologist in 2016, but with a specific function of helping to create informal education and outreach for the park that didn’t require a ranger. Getting inspiration from other national parks that have instituted similar programs, Manassas had its first batch of artists-in-residents in 2017: a total of five, including two from the NoVA area—one a youth artist—and the others from Connecticut, Ohio and New York.

Five artists, including Schlett—who refocused his life on photography after retiring as an executive at the U.S. Postal Service—were selected for 2018. Three have already completed their residencies, while another will overlap with Schlett during July and August. The other artists include a couple painters, a fiber artist and a lyricist.

“We’re trying to get artists with different mediums,” says Parness. “The program is really meant for them to come and learn about the park and explore their medium.”

Outside of the donation and a workshop that all artists are expected to conduct during their residency, Schlett will be on his own as far as what he wants to do with his time at the park. Partial to the “golden hours” that come at sunrise and sunset, despite living in Reston, Schlett will stay in park housing during his residency so he can go on morning hikes to take his photographs. He also says he plans on doing some star photography late in the evening. Schlett has also talked with the park about assisting with other photography needs in different parts of the park. “I intend to have a really full two weeks there,” he boasts.

Schlett has previous experience serving as an artist-in-residence at a national park. In 2016, he was part of a three-week program at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in California. He recently completed one in May at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland. He had applied for the 2017 Manassas residency, but got the “Dear Jim” letter.

He is particularly excited about this opportunity as a Civil War buff, since Manassas is only the second Civil War battle site that he has found to have an artist-in-residence program—the other being Gettysburg.

“If when I walk away they say ‘we’re really glad we selected you for these two weeks,’” Schlett will consider his time at Manassas a success.

As for the park, the program has already netted them a number of original pieces highlighting its landscape, wildlife and history, and has gained a wide range of support across the park’s staff. Parness’ position concluded in May of this year, but the program will now fall under the responsibility of the park’s education specialist.

“I don’t see it going away any time soon,” says Parness.

(July 2018)

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