Trail as Muse
John Amoss / Artist / Tanuki Prints
A.T. Impressions
A.T. woodblock prints of Tennessee, Connecticut, Jersey, and Massachusetts
Clockwise from top left: A.T. woodblock prints of Tennessee, Connecticut, Jersey, and Massachusetts

As with so many of you, I owe much to the Appalachian Trail — that small ribbon of up-and-down following the ancient eastern mountains that has given me so many life-long things: friends, dogged determination, a sense of accomplishment, and a need to constantly re-connect with Mother Nature.

Back in 1980, after thru-hiking the Trail, I convinced myself that I’d join a maintaining crew as soon as I got back. At the age of 17, I first had to graduate dreaded high school. Soon came new paths. College, navigating careers, marriage, and kids. Forty years later, I realized that the best way for me to give back was staring me in the face — to combine my two loves of art and the A.T.

John laying down with the project’s 166 hand-carved woodblocks
John with the project’s 166 hand-carved woodblocks
While working as an illustrator in the early 90s, I became enthralled by Japanese woodblock landscapes. Over the last 25 years, I have studied and worked in Japan as a printmaker, which led me to teaching printmaking. The natural materials of traditional Japanese printing (mokuhanga) techniques were strangely familiar to me — as were the countless repetitive steps and the challenging physical labor required. These elements reminded me so much of what I experience through hiking.

Unlike the four-and-a-half months it took me to hike the A.T., “The Appalachian Trail Print Collection” has taken me three years to complete. It required designing 14 images (one from each state along the A.T.), carving 165 cherry blocks, printing 32,000 colors by hand, and binding 220 volumes of prints. During this time, I also went through two surgeries, radiation therapy, and I lost my father. I drew on the lessons that I learned through hiking, mainly: “As long as you keep going, nothing can stop you.”

A.T. woodblock prints of West Virginia and New York
Clockwise from top: John hand-printing one of the 32,000 colors; A.T. woodblock prints of West Virginia and New York
My hope is to capture visually what it’s really like to be immersed in a long-distance hike through the changing weather, time, and seasons. And to elicit such joys as the sound of rain falling on mountain laurel, the clear and golden crispness of a coming fall, the smoke-cured smell in a shelter’s coolness, and the unexpected vista that suddenly unfolds before you.

I want this project to connect with the A.T. community as well as to give back. I believe that the Appalachian Trail brings out the best of us. It certainly has done that for me.

–John Amoss