By Issy Wilson

Finding Inspiration on the Appalachian Trail

February 1, 2024

My name is Issy Wilson, but I go by Poncho on the Appalachian Trail. I’m a visual artist, and my story has been interwoven with the Trail since I began my thru-hike. As many other hikers express, this journey challenged and changed me in ways that I continue to try to process, understand, and reflect on. As a visual artist, this has manifested itself in many different ways through my paintings, murals, textiles, collaborative projects, and subsequent hikes. 

Issy completes her thru-hike in 2022 and celebrates at the summit of Katahdin.

“Flower People” formed my first series of work based on the A.T. This is a character that represents the combination of the intense pain and fatigue of long-distance hiking with the whimsical and enriching experience of navigating the Appalachian mountains. Like many other hikers, it was difficult to return to “real life” and to deal with post-trail depression, especially in a cold Chicago winter.

Issy’s first Flower Person character.

These characters, along with the colorful nature of the drawings helped to bring some light and happiness for me when it felt like everyone was collectively struggling. I felt that the Flower People belonged on the Trail and possessed a nomadic quality. I began reaching out to hostels in the south and offered to paint murals of my “Flower People” on a work-for-stay/donation-basis.

I started at Stanimals in Waynesboro and worked my way down to Stanimals in Glasgow, Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven, Lickskillet, Uncle Johnny’s, and Laughing Heart. I used recycled latex paint and only bought new paint when necessary. Since this journey, “Flower People” have also made their way into murals at Elsewhere Brewing in Atlanta, GA; Peter White Public Library in Marquette, MI; and Salon Soto in Evanston, IL. 

My next project inspired by the Trail is called the “Artist Quilt.” After hiking and road tripping for murals, I was so struck by the community that the trail forms, even across thousands of miles. It’s a very immediate feeling–this sense of belonging–and I wanted to find a way to connect with my fellow makers that exist around the country and the world.

Issy’s artist quilt links the works of 89 artists in a 6×16 ft. quilt.

I linked 89 artists in a green, dendritic, mixed-media quilt by reaching out to friends and family, mailing them a square of canvas, asking them to create something based on the term “dendritic” (which means having a branch-like structure), and then they mailed their squares back to me. I sewed this together into a 6×16 foot quilt that went on display in Evanston, IL; Stamps School of Art and Design in Ann Arbor, MI; New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL; and at the Mart in Chicago. Each of the squares of canvas in this piece have had their own unique journey and now the quilt has also had a life of its own. 

Currently, I’m studying at the Royal College of Art in London to pursue my Master’s in Painting. My paintings and textiles are exploring the connective structures found in trees and fungi and how those form communities. I’m experimenting with finding more sustainable methods of creating with natural pigments and fibers. My studio has become an ecosystem of its own with pieces flowing and evolving into one another. The degree-show will take place in June of this year, and I will graduate in September 2024. 

I have so much gratitude for all of these experiences, journeys, and communities. I’m eager to see where life will take me next, but if I learned anything from the A.T., it’s to have patience and perseverance. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that this thing called life will take me to where I need to be. 

Find more of Issy’s work on her Instagram ( Are you an artist inspired by the A.T.? We’d love to hear from you and see your art! Please send us your submissions below.