Vermont artist paints the Long Trail

Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 2:51 PM EST
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BOLTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Exploring the wilderness is second nature to artist Rob Mullen.

Since 2001, Mullen and his colleagues have been going on weekslong canoeing expeditions through the Northern Wilderness of Canada and Alaska.

“Each one of them is probably a trip of a lifetime,” Mullen said.

His trips resulted in paintings that ended up with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

After taking a break to catch his breath in 2019, Mullen started this year planning an August excursion to the Northwest Territories of Canada.

“This started to look shaky even in January,” he said. “As it got worse and worse, I just back-burned the planning. I just kind of saw the border closing coming down.”

With COVID canning Mullen’s trip, where could he explore? The solution was right in his backyard... or at least several feet behind it. Mullen decided to hike the entire Long Trail, starting at the Canadian border on Sept. 16. He finished at the Massachusetts border one month and one day later.

“I had done over the years, probably two-thirds of it, but I’d never done all of it, let alone all at once,” he said.

Not only did Mullen hike the trail, but he also painted what he saw along the way.

“The art has become such a big part of our wilderness trips, I just wanted to try and incorporate that,” he said.

It could take days or even weeks for Mullen to finish a painting working in the studio, but while he was on the long trail, he only had two to three hours to finish a painting, because he had to keep moving.

“You’ve got to hike a certain many hours in a day. So as an artist, it’s making me stretch a lot and I’m having to paint in a way I’m not used to,” Mullen said. “This one was completely done in the field.”

Mullen sold his first painting to a passing hiker during his first full morning on the trail.

He ended up selling all of his original Long Trail paintings.

“The Long Trail really means a lot to not just Vermonters. It’s always been a part of my life, but it’s part of Vermont culture,” he said.

All of that walking and painting led to an epiphany.

“I realized I was having a great trip,” Mullen said. “I thought, maybe rather than chasing all over the country, I could just sit right here, which is as good a place as you can pick.”

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that staying home may not be so bad. In fact, it could lead you down a better path and open your eyes to new possibilities.

Mullen is using the trek to raise the profile and funding for the Vermont Wildlife Coalition. You can claim some artwork from the journey in exchange for sponsoring him on a per mileage basis until Dec. 1. Click here for more information.

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