Meet the Trail Community: Artist
One look at Herb Purganan’s expansive landscape oil paintings and you notice a theme: vastness. It’s clear that nature inspires him, so we asked what it’s like to experience a trail through the eyes of an artist.
For WTA's 50th Anniversary, we're highlighting trail users across Washington state. Hear what hiking means to them, and the future of their on-trail pursuits.
One look at Herb Purganan’s expansive landscape oil paintings and you notice a theme: vastness. Big skies full of tall thunderheads soar above rich fields of wheat or grasses that extend to the horizon. In the paintings, it’s clear that nature is one of his strongest inspirations. So we asked him what it’s like to experience a trail through the eyes of an artist.
Photo by Daniel Silverberg
“I get inspiration for my paintings from the natural world—this canvas is actually inspired by what I see every day on my commute to and from work.”
He gestures to a large canvas with a horizon line drawn low; three-quarters of the painting is huge sky with the suggestion of building thunderheads.
“I’m not sure how much more I’ll develop it, but that scene speaks to me every day, and I just wanted to capture it.”
Those skies stuffed with thunderheads are a signature of Herb’s painting style. And that signature may spring from one of Herb’s favorite hiking memories.
Last summer, he was caught in a monumental thunderstorm in Emerald Ridge on the Wonderland Trail: “It was early in the morning and the sky was full of these big gray clouds. The wind was blowing everywhere and it was just so stormy. It was scary but also so beautiful. That moment really stuck with me. I would like to go back there.”
Discovering an inspiring landscape
Originally from Northern California, Herb moved up to the Pacific Northwest ten years ago to do literacy support work in ELL (English Language Learning) classrooms. Not long after moving, some friends invited him on his first hike ever: Poo Poo Point. After visiting that trail, he was hooked.
“After spending some time out in nature, I realized that I needed to do it more and more.”
Herb's inspiration stems largely from the lack of straight lines in the natural world. Photo by Daniel Silverberg
When asked what triggered that need to get back on trail, Herb reflected on the contrast between walking in the city versus on a hiking trail.
“Everything in the man-made world is ninety degree angles. Leave your house, turn right, walk two blocks and you’re at a convenience store—it’s all laid out for efficiency and convenience. Hiking, following a winding, simple path helps put me in tune with my soul. It brings me peace, reflective time, contemplation. It makes things seem simpler.”
That appreciation for simple reflection and thought hooked Herb, and it didn’t take long for the enormity of the natural world, the theme of vastness and humanity’s corresponding smallness to work their way into his art.
“Being out on top of a mountain reminds me that humans are relatively small.”
He thinks back to that thunderstorm on the Wonderland Trail. “During that storm, I saw someone else sitting on a boulder on the other side of the meadow I was in, all by herself. I remember being a little worried about her, but at the same time I was struck by the fierceness of the storm compared to the size of her just sitting on that rock.”
Photo by Daniel Silverberg
Small presence, big impact
Despite our relative smallness, people have a big impact on the natural world. Every step taken on a trail affects the environment. Whether you’re hiking past a marmot’s den or looking for a place to set up camp for the night, humans interacting with the natural world can leave an impression.
That’s why Herb believes in the power of organizations like WTA.
“I think that when they’re hiking, people do stay on trail when one is clear and established, but someone has to maintain that trail in order to keep visitors on the right path. That's why WTA's trail maintenance program is extremely important.”
Herb believes in that work enough to spend time volunteering with WTA. His first work party was several years ago, on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail.
"I liked the idea of helping out as a way to say thank you for its [WTA's] monumental contribution advocating for a safe and sustainable outdoors."
WTA's (and Herb's) work to help keep trails maintained allows him to continue to find the peace and creativity he needs on trail. Photo by Daniel Silverberg.
But Herb quickly realized work parties don't just get good work done. They're also a community of people who love trails as much as he does, and he's returned again and again.
“WTA does great work, but the work parties are a community, which is so important to any society. Having volunteer organizations makes a society stronger. You get to know each other, you care about the same goal but you also care about each other and it makes everyone feel very connected to each other, which is good socially, and the environment benefits, too.”
WTA looks forward to another 50 years of maintenance that allow Herb—and anyone else—to escape into those vast, impressive spaces for inspiration, peace and reflective time. Care to help? Volunteer with us.