Shining Beneath a Layer of Impermanence, Hot Springs National Park


I began this overview of my residency by exploring the theme of "hope", looking at it from both sides of Central Avenue in Hot Springs National Park, AR.  (The town name does indeed contain "National Park"). 

The city no longer hosts spring training for major league baseball.  Gambling has moved out of the central business district.  The recent economic downturn has dashed the hopes of some of the local business owners - so many storefronts say, "Closed". 

Modern medicine including the widespread use of antibiotics caused all but one of the bathhouses to close.  Only the Buckstaff has remained in continuous operation (since 1912). Even hopes for protecting the water have taken a hit from recent geological findings and the demands of modern times. Development and global warming have threatened the recharge area, the source of the hot springs.

Yet, we continue to value holistic health.  By protecting over 60,000 historic objects, the park has the means to connect us to this universal theme of hope for health and healing. While in residence, I studied the quality and beauty of the architectural details and how they reinforced this theme through craftsmanship, myth, exclusivity, and association.  I was awed by how they shone brightly despite the ravages of time and vagaries of the economy.

Using my medium, digital silk painting, I planned artwork that would link architectural detailing to the natural resources of the park, connecting the extrinsic to the intrinsic.

First, here's some architectural details and features of the park that I've organized into thematic ideas.  Next, I'll show my work.

Craftsmanship Lasts

Individually Hand-set Tiles

Combined tile

Beauty and Functionality

Radiator combo

In radiators

Better hinge

In door hinges

Coat rack

In Coat Racks


 In Bridges, the Grand Promenade, Retaining Walls etc.

Spiritual Cleansing, Symbolism and Myth

Come to the Waters

Come to the water-2

Fish detail


Fountain of Youth

Fountain of youth


Native American Wisdom



Luxury and Exclusivity - "You Deserve It"


Quawpaw skylight bas relief



Pastoral details that imply associations with European spas


A thermostat on a wall mural

My Work

In addition to branching out subject-matter-wise, I pushed myself to use new techniques and to increase my productivity.  Here are the pieces I finished while I was in Hot Springs:

Gift to park

Fire Pinks on the Dead Chief Trail with Border Tile from a Hallway at the Fordyce.  The park chose this piece for its permanent collection.


Fordyce magnolia

Magnolia Blooming Before Stained Glass Window, Fordyce


Turtle talk any better

Turtle Talk - Warmed by the Sun, Bordered by Fordyce Radiators



Ozark Rising

"Ozark Rising" symbolizes its reincarnation as an arts and cultural center.

Hope for the Future

Holistic health as a theme has widespread appeal.  Among the park's programming initiatives, I would like to mention three.

  1. Getting the remaining bathhouses restored and open through quality concessions that support the park's mission.  One recent example is the Superior, a micro-brewery that serves locally-sourced and healthy food to accompany the beer and root beer it makes from hot spring water.  Another, is the Lamar Bathhouse, selling lotions, soaps and other spa products made from the water.
  2. Community building.  Restoration of the Ozark as a cultural center.  It is operated by the Friends of Hot Springs National Park, provides a venue for community arts programming, and houses a gallery featuring the park's artist-in-residence collection.
  3. "Healthy Parks, Healthy People" is an initiative that started at the national level and is currently being implemented at Hot Springs.  These programs are underway:  1) "Let's Move Outside" where you earn incentives for time spent hiking the trails.  2) Geocaching,  3) The re-development of the historic Oertel system of trails that build cardiovascular endurance.

Lasting Impressions

I guess a long-standing tradition of taking care of folks has rubbed off on townsfolk and park staff alike.  Compassion and kindness are everywhere. Thanks to Lisa G, Lisa A, Tom, Mike, Jeff, and Shane (and his wife, Diana).  Thanks to "Friends", Rox, Charles, Bill, Lance, and Dennis.   And to Park Superintendent, Josie Fernandez, who welcomed me as an honored guest.  I promised her that I would serve as a goodwill ambassador for the park.  I look to these pages as a place to start.  Thanks for joining me on the trail.


Story of Water Resources at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Turtle talk any better

Local ecosystems evolve naturally to insure water quality.  A water system will suffer if land is developed without having a system for conserving it in place. Building roads and parking lots, cutting down forests, and re-routing water flow and drainage without regard to protecting water both  locally and downstream can have wide-spread effects on its supply, quality, and other characteristics.  Sustainable development and land protection are two strategies adopted in many communities.  For example, in my own community, Legacy Land Conservancy is protecting land vital to our water supply via conservation easements and strategic partnerships.  The water story is much more dramatic at Hot Springs and its telling may provoke further thought to something we often take for granted at home.

The mission of our National Parks is to protect and serve.  National Parks protect what is unique to them. So, Hot Springs National Park protects its unique water.  Water that is very old and doesn't stink. The minerals in it have been carbon-dated at 4,400 years old. (Imagine water falling in Arkansas when the pyramids were being built in Egypt.)  It doesn't stink like other hot springs because the water is heated by a geothermal gradient and not by volcanic magma.

Superior springs cap

The former equivalent of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior realized the importance of the springs early, in 1832, when the area around the springs became our nation's first "Reserve".  The water system appeared to be locked down until irony of ironies - truth be told through geology - its source had never been protected.



The rocks of the Ouachita Mountains were laid down undersea 356 million years ago.  The Zigzag section of them surrounding Hot Springs show the extremes of deformation from the colliding South American and African tectonic plates. Pressures and temperatures were high enough to melt and deform the rock. It folded into faults, some layers appear to be crushed tubes.  Rain and melt water soaked the ground and found its way more than 7,000 feet below the surface by following the cracks and fissures in the rock.  On its long journey back up the water cools to 143 degrees F, gushing out of the hot springs to the tune of 650,000 gallons/day.

When considering the first paragraph above, about water quality and supply,  one might ask, "Who cares about 4,000 year-old water?"  Well, geologists found that the heated water in the springs travels to the surface through an action similar to a trap in a sink. Water soaking into the ground today pushes the old stuff through the system. The effects of drought and less water soaking the ground during extreme rainfall are immediate.  During one six-month period of drought, the volume of water coming from the springs dropped from 700,000 gallons a day to 600,000 gallons a day.  And the temperature dropped because the water came back up more slowly, allowing it more time to cool.

Indian Mountain stands a few miles away to the east.  A foresting company owned a vast section of it and maintained a healthy forest there.   All this time, the Hot Springs flowed continuously.  Everyone thought the National Park System protected the land surrounding its water supply.  Then, the foresting company sold off some of its land to a developer for constructing a mega church.  During construction a neighboring farmer complained about a significant rise in the temperature of his well water.  Geologists were called to investigate.

No one had realized that the water came from what geologists think today is a five-mile ribbon of ridge on Indian Mountain that had never been protected by the Park Service.  The recharge area, the source of hot springs water, is now known to be at risk from developers and a proposed highway bypass that would greatly impact water flow and drainage.  The Park service simply cannot afford to buy this land at today's prices.   The community realizes how dependent it is on tourism.  The Park is now partnering with conservation groups, working with the road commission, with developers to protect the mountain top, with local zoning boards to disallow water divergence, and with a conservancy to protect land through easements. 


A far greater threat to the Hot Springs, however, is climate change.  Shedding some light on how Hot Springs water supply is at risk through global warming may shed some light on what we see here at home. In Hot Springs National Park, AR, even in light of climate change, no effect on the overall amount of water is predicted.   Ideally, the perfect weather scenario would be a series of light, ground-soaking rains.   But with an increase in temperatures, there are fewer but heavier rain events with prolonged droughts in between.  Native ground cover suffers and invasive plants creep in.  Dry underbrush is vulnerable to fire.  Invasive vines, like honeysuckle and this privet shrub brought in from Asia, take fire up into the forest canopy and lead to hotter, more intense, and devastating fires.  Water runs off, taking top soils and plant matter that could have have directed the water downward.

When I reviewed this information with a friend, she remarked on how we all are part of a system that is running out of control. Depressing, huh?  Gee, I almost made a painting of those pretty privet shrub blossoms.  After I heard the climate change story, I decided not to celebrate it by painting it.  I certainly won't buy one for my garden, one whose flowers smell so sweet.  I can make myself feel better by telling these stories, turning my thermostat down, driving a little slower, riding my bike and walking more.  Something's better than nothing, right?

Hope Springs Eternal at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Hope springs eternal

They say there are two sides to every coin - so true at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. 

After the Civil War, veterans took to the thermal waters of Hot Springs Reserve hoping to heal the injuries they sustained in the war. It was a place of last resort for many. Later, in the early 1900's, luxurious bath houses sprang up, offering an American version of the health spas popular in Europe.  A 21-day treatment regimen was offered to wealthy visitors hoping to cure their ailments.  (By now, the "dirty" soldiers had been shunted off to the newly built Army Navy Hospital at the end of Bathhouse Row. This hospital was a predecessor to the VA system hospitals.) 

One wealthy gentleman, Samuel Fordyce, was told he had six months to live.  A trip to the waters in Hot Springs was his last hope.  After treatment, he lived another 42 years.  His recovery lead him to develop the crème de la crème of bath houses, the Fordyce, which now serves as the park's visitor center and museum.

On the other side of the street, another story has played out.  Today, amongst the fudge and t-shirt shops, there are reminders of where else hope has sprung in Hot Springs :  hopes for a winning season, luck of the draw, and someone else to take care of your problems for you.  During prohibition up to the late 50's a certain lawlessness prevailed. Here died the first ranger in the US to be shot and killed on the job. (His killer was subsequently acquitted). 

Sometimes the two worlds intersect, particularly for the players in baseball teams that attended Spring training here. There were times when Babe Ruth needed to get a bender sweated out of him or to do strength training in the gym at one of the bathhouse.  Al Capone and his "gangsta" cronies were careful not to cross the street and risk arrest from Feds just within spitting distance.  At the Ohio Club, you could gamble and drink if you knew the password.  (And they still serve a good hamburger today - you can take a shot at your cholesterol level after a massage at the Buckstaff or Quapaw).

During my residency at Hot Springs National Park, I had hopes too.  In addition to mixing it up artistically, I fervently hoped not to get bit by one of the 6 venomous snakes in the area.  I was lucky - I submersed myself in the waters and my art.  I also logged 16 snake-free miles.  Whoopi!