As a little girl, Teresa Pennington of Waynesville looked forward to Sundays all week. After church, her family would venture into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, often to the banks of the Oconaluftee River, to enjoy a picnic lunch of fried chicken.
“My sister and I would play in the horribly frigid, cold water and build little dams and had the best time,” Pennington said. “When I was 6 years old, I never knew I would have a gallery in Waynesville and be drawing that river.”
Scenes from the park are a centerpiece of Pennington’s signature artwork. A long-time park supporter, Pennington was one of the first artists in the region to create a commemorative piece for the Smokies 75th anniversary being celebrated this year and donate a portion of the proceeds to the Friends of the Smokies.
“I have used the park for my subject matter for such a long time. I really wanted the opportunity to give back,” Pennington said.
The setting for Pennington’s commemorative piece is none other than the Oconaluftee River Valley. It weaves together all the iconic symbols of the park: endless blue ridges, lush green mountain sides, a thin wisp of mist creeping up the valley and two bear cubs scampering up a tree trunk. The title of the piece, “For the Permanent Enjoyment of the People,” harkens back to the legislation that created the national park 75 years ago and set the stage for its mission to preserve the natural wonders of the Smokies unfettered for future generations.
Frolicking along the Oconaluftee River during Sunday picnics is just a small slice of Pennington’s long love affair with the park. The park’s campgrounds were the site of annual family vacations, with all the adventure a little girl could want.
“The best stories are about the bears. They (park rangers) were always trying to catch a bear that was mischievous and getting into trouble,” Pennington said. “When I was a little girl they would let us feed the bears. Of course, they don’t let you do that now.”
The Smokies has shaped who Pennington is as an artist.
“They say do what you love and the money will come. I have done what I loved in being an artist but also in my subject matter. I love the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s where my heart is. I think people can see that,” Pennington said. “There is nothing I would rather do than spend a day in my studio drawing a mountain or a stream or a bear.”
As she sits in her studio envisioning mountain scenes to play out at the tip of her colored pencils, there is no shortage of material to draw from.
“When I sit in my studio I think back to those times as a little girl. I cherish those memories, and it has really brought me to where I am,” she said.
Pennington’s collectible pieces, as well as the 75th anniversary commemorative print “For the Permanent Enjoyment of the People,” can be found in her downtown Waynesville T. Pennington Art Gallery or at www.tpennington.com.