Jack Warden is accustomed to painting the beauty he sees at Riverbend Park, and soon other visitors to the park will be able to share his visions.
Starting with a reception on Sunday, Sept. 18, an exhibit of 50 of Warden's paintings will be on display at the Riverbend Park Visitor's Center, the first art show of its kind at the park.
Park manager Marty Smith had spoken with Warden after seeing him painting in the park, he said. A frequent visitor to the park for over 20 years, Smith "asked me if I'd be interested in having an exhibit there, and that was it," he said.
Currently, Warden has an exhibit at the Creative Home gallery in Reston, but he admits the stakes are a little higher for the upcoming show at the park.
"People will have the chance to judge the accuracy of my painting because the subject is right there," Warden said with a slight chuckle.
The exhibit at Riverbend will also be his largest. "Very seldom does a painter get the chance to see 50 of his paintings together at one time," he said.
WARDEN CALLS HIMSELF an outdoor painter, which he prefers to call the "plein air" style of painting that is gaining in popularity in artistic circles, he said. "Ninety-nine percent of my work is done outdoors at a specific site," he said. "Some people call my work impressionistic, but I'm just trying to serve the public what I see. I'm very much in favor of art that celebrates and tries to capture the beauty of the natural world."
That beauty is increasingly endangered by development and growth, he said, something he hopes can be slowed down with exhibits like his.
"People, at this late juncture, are starting to realize what will be lost if we pave over everything," he said. "If we lose nature, we'll lose so much beauty. I'm proud to be part of the plein air movement that's drawing attention to this problem. Riverbend Park is such a gem."
"A lot of people recognize Jack because he's out here painting a lot," said Cathy Mayes, president of the Friends of Riverbend Park group. "The paintings he's bringing are of all different colors and seasons here at the park with all sorts of different angles on the river."
The exhibit, titled "Seasons on the Potomac," is the first one at Riverbend Park, although other parks in Fairfax County have held similar events, Mayes said. "We'd like to invite other artists to have shows here as well, so we hope this will be the start of a new program. It adds another dimension of appreciation to the park to see it through an artist's eye."
Another part of the new artistic life of Riverbend Park will be a painting course Warden will teach in January, said John Callow, assistant manager at the park. "We've been able to offer other classes before — I think there was a drawing course — but never painting," he said. "We're looking forward to trying something new."
Callow said the park staff is also eagerly awaiting seeing how Warden captures the images of the park they see daily.
"It's neat to see the river and the trails and then see an artist's take on it," he said. "There are lots of good artists and photographers who like to come out and work here. There's a lot of natural beauty in the area."
Warden said he is also hoping to invite some painters for a day of working in April to be followed by a "wet canvas auction," in which he said the paintings created that day would be sold to raise money for the park. The pieces in the "Season on the Potomac" exhibit will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Friends of Riverbend Park and the park itself.