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Artist Considers Congaree’s Spirit Wild in Watercolors

Chesley Congaree,Twilight wc paper 22x29 2016

Stephen Chesley continues, in his distinctive way, to fend for conservation, with fervent allegiance to Congaree National Park (CNP) where the fine artist often takes inspiration for his coveted watercolors.

During a winter exhibition mounted earlier this year, Chesley unveiled a heroic-sized Congaree Park watercolor as part of: Consideration of the Spirit Wild, Watercolors of Congaree Swamp, 1985-2017.

Chesley has become a fixture in the 26,276-acre park, sometimes trekking in with his art supplies and an easel,

Stephen Chesley in studio with marine painting in background

sometimes armed solely with his camera. On those days he brings out with him only what the swamp has put his heart. His four-season vigil of the changing swamp-scape and his prolific output of lush paintings have made him the painter laureate of the sprawling natural area.

“Nothing else compares to becoming one with the surroundings, in what I’d call managed wild, when it’s just you and the law of nature. People’s understanding of the wild is changing.”

Chesley said he looks forward to “immersing myself in the woods as often as possible – away from artificial noise, getting a reprieve from the usual, walking into a healthy solitude.”

In the late ‘70s when he first learned about and began going the Congaree Swamp “the canopy was so thick it was perpetual twilight in there. For a long while after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, I didn’t want to see what had happened to it, but finally when I went back, the sun was blazing through big sky holes.” He said natural healing has brought a lot of the canopy back by now, but old growth bottomland trees that had been there for a century or more, were irreplaceable.

Although he works in most art mediums – including printmaking, sculpture, oils and watercolors – he is most often celebrated for his landscapes.

CNP, until 2003 a national monument, achieved its national park designation largely as a result of a tireless grassroots campaign that began late in the ‘60s.


Stephen Chesley is artist number 3 of our #10artists10days campaign series. Catch up on the complete series here.

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