Heather Friedli is best known for her contemporary impressionist oil paintings, depicting her family heritage and the land in which she lives.
My art career has been a lifelong process. I had a difficult first half of my childhood, living with my mom and grandma in the barrio of Los Angeles where drawing became a survival lifeline for my mental health. I would draw on paper, my school work, my arms, on tables, the walls. Everywhere I went I saw beauty – the sky, smoggy mountains, grass growing through the cracks in the sidewalk, planting a pinto bean and watching it grow. I craved the natural world.
When I was nine, after a difficult divorce, I was exhibiting signs of depression. My mom and aunt decided it would be best for me to have a change of pace and a positive male role model. So I moved in with my aunt and uncle into a tiny apartment in Luxembourg! Because they knew my inquisitive love of art, they took me to see all the classical works of art in Europe! It inspires me to this day.
I spent the second half of my childhood in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. My passion for art and nature continued to grow. Many of my formative years were at camp in the woods, and spending days up north with our family’s tribe gathering the stories of our elder relatives, going to pow-wows, and being with family. My Gran came from my moms to live with us as her needs increased. She brought with her the stories of her childhood, and that continued love and connection and protection she was always known for.
After high school I went off to the Maryland Institute College of Art. I majored in Fibers and Textiles mainly because the badass feminist teachers were the best in the whole school – leading their students in learning the ropes of “shameless self-promotion” and how to survive in a difficult art market.
But after college I felt unmoored. “Lost at sea.” I call this period “the lost years.”
I questioned whether I wanted to be an artist. Whether I wanted to follow the call of the wild and become a naturalist. Or whether I wanted to live off grid as a survivalist.
I went back to my safe and sacred place at YMCA Store Camps in Michigan where I re-engaged in their goal setting program and started to envision where I was going with my life. In 2009 (during the Great Recession) I set a goal that, on April 1st 2010, I would set out to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail.
And on April 2nd, 2010, I did.
I started down the Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia with a girl I had met online. She was hiking the trail for her high school senior thesis project. Her aunt and uncle, who live in Georgia, met me off the plane in Atlanta, I met my new hiking partner that night. After a restless night of sleep, my new partner and I were dropped off at the trail head the next day and started our big journey north.
“Snickers and Crafty” ended up hiking together for almost 400 miles. I received my trail name‚ “Crafty” because I created most of my own gear; from my tent, stove, backpack, first pairs of moccasins, and a few articles of clothing. Snickers got off trail due to homesickness, but I continued my journey, hiking with various other folks I met along the way.
The number one piece of advice I received kept me going on my journey, and still keeps me going today. I received it on my second day on trail in Georgia. It is advice I hold dear to my heart and share with anybody who will listen.
During an incredibly difficult uphill trek up one of my first mountains by former thru-hiker I met southbound. This man, seeing my face all red, and out of breath with my huge backpack, pulled me aside with a big smile on his face and asked “You heading to Maine?” to which I replied “Yes I am”
This gristly man, with his slightly rotund figure and face full of hair got a huge smile on his face and said
“I’ve got some advice for you! I thru-hiked this trail before, and the one thing that kept me going was this. Remember – it’s one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. That’s it! It doesn’t matter how slow you are, it’s not a race. Just get that one foot in front of the other and keep going!”
It became my mantra every day. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other until I get there. And after six and a half months, from Georgia to Maine, 2,178 miles later, On October 11th, 2010 just four days before the park service was set to close that last mountain to hikers for the year, I summited Mt. Kathadin!
Through wind, rain, snow, sleet, hurricane, thunderstorms, sunshine, bloody hot weather, I did it! One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
And while on trail I dreamed to become a painter. As I hiked, I dreamed paintings, I smelled paint, I could feel the brush strokes of the landscape in my hands as I hiked. The land around me was calling! So that’s what I did. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
Fast forward – I became a wife, then mom of two. I am still painting. Every day I take steps in order to continue my artistic journey and fulfill my dreams. Ever since summiting that last mountain, I KNOW that I can do it! Just one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
MORE ABOUT HEATHER
Bold brushstrokes and brilliant colors light up scenes of cloudscapes, water, and native flora. Many pieces are created in the context of her wilderness adventures; she often brings her paints outdoors to create work that shares with the viewer her experience of immersion in the landscape. Within these colorful works, Heather explores the spiritual world through the lens of culture and lived experience of place. Heather’s work is creative, soulful, bold, and powerful. Heather’s work is an effort to synthesize her love and experience in the natural world, and wilderness adventure travel. Those experiences, being out in the world seeing the beauty and power of nature are represented in large scale paintings. She paints with a passion for the land, looking around and internalizing the colors and expressing them onto canvas. Working in a large scale is not only an expression of what she sees, but also becomes a physical dance with her painting. The movement and rhythms in these works are her own unique dance with the land around her.
Heather Friedli was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1982. She received a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2005. In 2010 Heather Thru-Hiked the Appalachian Trail which upon completion inspired her to continue her work as an artist concentrating on painting the natural world. She currently is enjoying life in Saint Paul with her husband and two sons.