|Dickson captures Long Hunter flora, fauna on ceramic|
|Tuesday, November 15, 2011|
Like the Old West had its Charles Russell and Fredric Remington, the wildlife and plants of Long Hunter State Park have Fred Dickson.
Dickson, 65, a hiker, a harpist and avowed old movie aficionado, is a photogrammetrist by trade. He draws maps from aerial photographs for the Tennessee Department of Transportation in the Aerial Surveys division.
However, for relaxation, he paints the birds, mammals, butterflies and plants of Long Hunter, not on canvas but on ceramic plates, cups and saucers.
Dickson’s Flora and Fauna of Long Hunter collection ranges from such creatures as coyote, fox, raccoon and bobcat to birds like the scarlet tanager and indigo bunting and butterflies like the black Eastern tiger swallowtail, the juniper hairstreak and even a luna moth.
As for flora, he has captured Long Hunter’s famed Tennessee purple coneflower, the limestone fameflower and morel mushrooms. Most of his ceramic creations are one of a kind.
His ambitious project to sketch and paint the wildlife of Long Hunter State Park onto plates, cups and saucers commenced in October 2010 when seasonal ranger Ponda Armstrong and park volunteer Jason Allen took him to Fired Up, a contemporary pottery painting studio at Providence MarketPlace, as a birthday gift.“That’s the first time I knew you could do this kind of thing. I’ve been an artist for a long time, but I didn’t know you could paint on ceramics like this,” recalled Dickson, a gentle, quiet man. “I was sold.”
A native of Dickson County, he lives in Donelson and has visited Long Hunter State Park almost once a week since 1987.
“I come mostly on weekends to hike the trails. I usually try to make 5 miles each trip,” he said. “I just enjoy the freedom of being out and in the open.”
For the past year, he has claimed Fired Up in Providence as his painting studio and sits down here twice a week to create.
“This is enjoyable, a place where I can work. I don’t have a place at home. It’s claustrophobic in my little apartment,” Dickson said.
“Everyone who comes in here to paint loves Fred and loves to watch him,” said Fired Up owner Dominique Darsinos. “He comes and paints on Saturdays when we have birthdays, and he patiently paints and paints and is not annoyed by anything. We’re impressed by him. His work is amazing. It looks real.”
Dickson confessed he was flummoxed as to where to begin when he first took up his brush.
“I couldn’t make up my mind what to do that first evening. I had seen a book on wildflowers and so I drew a prickly pear cactus. That was my first plate,” he recollected.
“About a month or two later, Jason and I talked about it, and he suggested that I start doing some of the Long Hunter plants and animals and wildflowers and birds.”
He has since created 21 plates, three cups and saucers and a deer platter and recently began on plate number 22, a ruby-throated hummingbird.
“When I saw his first few plates, I knew he was onto something. Each plate was a little better than the previous one,” Allen said. “Even the customers at Fired Up started gathering around Fred, watching him work, amazed by his creations.”
Dickson hints there might be more coming in the Long Hunter series such as trees, maybe frogs and other amphibians and owls and water birds. He recently began doing human portraits on ceramic for friends.
The artist first sketches his subject in pencil on the plate. After he colors it, Darsinos coats it with glaze and bakes it in a kiln.
“I fire it,” Darsinos said. “The heat goes up to about 2,000 degrees. It‘s almost a 24-hour process by the time it cools off. It probably bakes about 8 hours.”
The reactions to Dickson’s finished products have been positive.
“Everyone has been very complimentary, which has surprised and delighted me. It’s encouraged me to do more,” the artist said.
“As far as I know, no one has ever done a collection quite like this related to a Tennessee State Park,” said Allen, one of Dickson’s most ardent fans.
His artwork also may be seen in other areas around Long Hunter State Park: in the park office, on bulletin boards and on the cover of the Couchville Lake Arboretum brochure. And on weekends, Dickson may be seen himself, hiking his favorite trails.
“Fred has become a fixture at the park. People expect to see him just like they do the deer and geese. Every park and Friends group would be fortunate to have someone like Fred. He’s become an important part of Long Hunter’s foundation,” said Allen, who leads an annual mega-hike that covers all 26 miles of trails at the park a single day. (Dickson recently completed his fourth marathon hike and was the eldest participant.)
“Some people hike for exercise, others to be immersed in nature. I think Fred does it for both. When he’s on a trail, you can tell he’s in his element,” Allen said. “I’m not sure anyone has put in more trail miles at Long Hunter than Fred. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone who can out-walk or out-hike Fred.”
And, in terms of Long Hunter's wildlife and plants, it also seems apparent that nobody can out-paint Dickson.
by Ken Beck