My first trips to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, were when I was young. My parents would take our family to the mountains for camping and hiking. Eventually we would end up visiting Gatlinburg and stroll down the main drag of Gatlinburg, inhaling the fudge fumes and eventually succumbing to a purchase or a free sample.
Sometimes we sat in the rocking chairs or benches – and watched the crowds of people. We checked out the shops with store windows filled with taffy and the small stuffed black bears.
Over the years on trips to Gatlinburg, I’ve absorbed the city in different ways.
I’ve taken photographs of the town and the mountains. I’ve used Gatlinburg as a location to have celebration meals after hikes to Mt. Le Conte. I’ve stayed in Gatlinburg when I’ve taken courses on wood carving and turning and wood turning and pyrography at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
I’m reliving a trip to Gatlinburg now — during COVID-19 times — because the current trip to Gatlinburg has been cancelled.
Two years ago was my first time in Gatlinburg as an urban sketcher in addition to being a hiker. (And last year, I repeated the experience sketching in the mountains.) I wanted to see how I could draw Gatlinburg – a popular tourist attraction.
One evening, I sat on the balcony of the motel room and sketched the people scurrying through the rain. Some were wearing hooded jackets. Some carried umbrellas. Some were wearing recently purchased Smokies rain ponchos covered with bears.
One morning, as I waited for my breakfast to be prepared, I sketched the interior of Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. The restaurant was filled with memorabilia of the early days of Gatlinburg, with a wagon with camp supplies, logging saws and Mason jars as lights. This was my first opportunity to sketch a saddle (without the horse).
A view of the mountainside that I sketched from a restaurant window was a reminder of the Gatlinburg wildfires in November 2016 that took 14 lives and destroyed millions of dollars of property. Sections of the mountainside were still charred and several mountain homes were being restored.
I knew I wanted to sketch the Sky Lift. With its bright yellow chairs and orange towers, the Sky Lift catches everyone’s eye as it takes riders from the main drag in Gatlinburg to the top of Crockett Mountain. But I had to decide how to capture the Sky Lift.
I decided to not try to draw the entire structure with about 50 chairs in motion. Instead, I found a location so I could focus on just a few of the chairs and see how the riders were positioned.
A fun aspect of urban sketching is posting my sketches on Instagram and getting feedback. For example, I was contacted by Red, White and Blues Farm in Williston that wanted to obtain my sketches of the farm I’d posted on Instagram in exchange for quarts of their wonderful blueberries.
After many trips to Gatlinburg, I am resigned to reliving the experience this year through the urban sketches from previous visitings. It’s an interesting way to re-savor the travels — by flipping through one’s urban sketching Moleskine.