Backlit Swale

Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, Tennessee
August 1, 2023
Oil on canvas
12 x 16 in. (30.5 x 40.6 cm)


Sometimes it’s difficult to settle on a composition, especially when newly arrived on a site. But with the sun nearing the horizon I had to pick something, anything, and get started before the daylight window closed. After considering and rejecting several views that might convey the lay of the land and sense of place, I settled on a more basic exercise: a study of the effects of light—in this case a low afternoon sun backlighting grasses, ferns, orchids, eupatoriums, and woody resprouts in a botanically rich swale. What began as a squinting exercise in the heat of the day ended by the light of my cellphone in the chirping quiet of nightfall.

This is second of four field paintings from my first visit to the remarkable Catoosa Savanna on the Cumberland Plateau. In the 90s, visionaries in the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency realized a rich native grassland was just waiting to be reawakened here, so after a pine beetle infestation and timber salvage operation they implemented a robust prescribed fire regime. Prairie plants, barely hanging on in the shade of the recent forest, exploded. On my visit, the call of “bob white” seemed fairly constant. Congratulations to the TWRA for (re)creating a magnificent place.

Exhibition History