She’s been lugging her easel, canvas and oil paints through the Grand Canyon, Sequoia’s redwoods, Yosemite and the Channel Islands. Along the way, Fitz Maurice, a Laguna Beach artist and internationally recognized painter, developed a passion for the U.S. national parks and this week sets out on a quest to paint in all 59, from Alaska to Maine.
Leaving the confines of her Laguna Canyon studio today, Friday, May 1, she heads out, behind the wheel of a powerful pickup truck and 33-foot trailer. She’s bringing along a companion whom she declined to identify to help her drive, to explore and paint all the scenic spots her roving eye is bound to discover. “It’s an adventure inspired by the monumental beauty that must be appreciated and preserved,” she said.
Maurice plans to be gone for about a year, and has put aside the $20,000 she estimates it will cost. “I’m doing this alone right now, but wouldn’t mind attracting a corporation or individuals to sponsor me,” she said. Fellow park enthusiasts can follow her whereabouts at www.fitzmauriceart.com “I shall keep going as long as the roads will keep blessing my wheels.”
Sporting an off-white cowboy hat, Maurice describes herself as a cowgirl, able to ride horses through all sorts of terrain and weather conditions. “When you can saddle up a horse and go out, knowing trails well enough to come and go, ride through streams, rivers and through snow, you can make that claim,” she said.
When horses won’t do, she hikes or kayaks. “I’ve been going to national parks for three years, to 14 so far, and would love winding up as a spokesperson for the national parks,” she said. “I go when the park tells me to,” she said, explaining that, for example, she would prefer to stay out of Death Valley in the summer but should go to Utah’s Bryce Canyon in mid-May. “I pick the best times for hiking and painting outside,” she said. She is a member of the National Park Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation.
Selected parks offer artist-in-residence programs to writers, photographers and artists including Acadia National Park in Maine. There, eight have been selected for 2015, and Maurice says she was told she was selected as an alternate.
Katherine Chesson, in charge of National Park Service grants and programs, recommends that artists and travelers with intentions similar to Maurice’s to consult www.nextcenturyforparks.org
Maurice’s studio is filled with paintings done during forays through the nine California parks. Collectors are also able to commission her to find a scenic spot to paint in their favorite park, she said.
One of the first to commission such a painting was Rodney Gypin, a collector with a special fondness for the landscape of Santa Fe, NM. “I wanted Fitz to paint in the area where Georgia O’Keefe painted,” he recalled. The result is “Serene,” of Bandelier National Monument. “It’s a very personal painting since I’m from Boulder, and love all wilderness and the national parks,” he said. “They are our national treasure and worthy of promotion.
Santa Ana attorney Jamiyl Shabrami, who kayaked with Maurice through the Channel Islands and owns two works from her park series, shares the artist’s enthusiasm for promoting the parks’ beauty. “I would love to help her spread the message of how the parks promote peace and tranquility and appreciation for nature,” he said.
“When people visit my studio, I encourage them to take their families and expose the children, more familiar with technology than nature, to just go and learn how to use a compass, how to find water, to appreciate and be able to live in the wilderness if need be,” the artist said. “Nature can teach your entire being, mind, body and soul, more than anything else,” she said.
A photo in her studio shows her in a bucolic setting with her then 8-year-old son. Dylan Fitzmaurice Metzler is now 29 and a U.S Marine Corps officer, she said.
A 2001 recipient of a Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Foundation award, Maurice has traveled in Europe, Mexico and Japan, garnering critical recognition for “Berlin Metamorphosis,” a series of charcoal and oil paintings as well as colored pencil sketches documenting the city shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Stylistically the series is drastically different from her bourgeoning National Parks body of work. While the former is dramatic and linear, the depictions of nature are an amalgam of impressionism, pointillism and heavier impastoed personal inventions culminating in dramatic paintings such as “Enchanted,” painted in the Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico.
Her work can also be found at the Laguna Design Center in Laguna Niguel.