Newest Weir Farm artist works to protect the natural beauty around her

As a National Park ranger herself, the newest Weir Farm artist-in-residence has a special connection to the site.

“I don’t consider myself a ranger-artist, or an artist-ranger,” MaryEllen Hackett said from the Weir Farm studio on Monday. “I try to focus on both roles equally.”

A classically trained painter who earned a bachelor's degree in fine art from Adelphi University, Ms. Hackett’s residency in Wilton is the third of her short career. At just 26 years old, the artist previously completed residencies at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, and in Vermont.

“For me, park ranger work has allowed me a lot of flexibility” in artistic pursuits, she said. “It’s just by luck that when my ranger season is over I can do a monthlong residency.”

In a sense, Ms. Hackett is a conservationist working on two different fronts. For the majority of the year, she focuses on protecting wildlife through public education as a park ranger, which also gives her time to expose the beauty of nature through her landscape artwork.

“I’m painting things that are important to me, and that are important to me to protect,” she said. “I’ve always been involved in outdoors stuff, and I’ve always been doing art. This combines both of those worlds.”

For her, the opportunity to take a residence in a national historic site that focuses on human interaction with its natural habitat was especially exciting.

“I frequently work in parks known for their natural beauty, but I’ve also always been interested in the human history of those areas,” she said. “I make choices on where I apply to take a residence. Tons of artists have been through Yosemite and Yellowstone, but the bigger picture of those parks isn’t necessarily the artist’s,” as it is at Weir Farm, she said.

Unlike other artists who aspire to being represented by large New York City art galleries, Ms. Hackett considers it a greater personal accomplishment to work under the auspices of National Park Service residencies.

“It’s never been my goal to be shown by a huge gallery,” she said. “I consider these residencies to be their own ‘badges’.”

Ms. Hackett’s usual medium is gouache paint on paper, and she focuses on small-sized paintings. She prefers to depict scenes she has directly witnessed, never adding detail she fails to see in reality.

“I can tell you a lot of styles I’m not,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not an Impressionist. I guess I’m an observational painter. I don’t paint everything I see, but I don’t paint things that aren’t there.”

Working with gouache, a fast-drying paint generally used to teach color theory, allows the artist to work quickly while “in the field,” she said. “I used to work very fast. The paint dries almost instantly, so I don’t have to worry about carrying wet paint back out of the field,” she said.

Though the phrase small paintings might imply a lack of detail, Ms. Hackett doesn’t fail to capture the tiniest aspects of a landscape in her work.

“I usually work outside, and bring a very small painting box with me. I’m making small paintings, but I’m working close to them, as well. I don’t even use the smallest brushes, because working with a small brush encourages one to be to picky. I’m precise about my work, but I don’t want to waste time,” she said.

Following her residency at Weir Farm, Ms. Hackett will present a collection of her paintings at Wilton Library on Monday, Jan. 27, from 6 to 7:30. As part of the residency, Ms. Hackett will also produce a number of woodblock prints. After her stay at Weir Farm, these prints will be printed in an edition at the Center for Book Arts in New York.

For information on purchasing work by Ms. Hackett, visit her personal website at maryellenhackett.com.