SHTA Artist of the Year: Heather Friedli

May 30th, 2024

Heather Friedli’s “Lupine Views of Lake Superior” is inspired by Wildflower Hill on the Superior Hiking Trail just north of Grand Marais. This incredible artwork is now featured on shirts available for purchase from our Trail Store. Photo courtesy of Heather Friedli.
Artist and SHT adventurer Heather Friedli. Photo courtesy of Heather Friedli.

When artist Heather Friedli backpacks on the Superior Hiking Trail, she experiences her hike both as a series of compositions, and a spiritual journey to connect with the land and her ancestors.

“I will be looking at the plants and trees, how the sky and clouds are interacting, the light and the dark,” Heather said. “My Anishinaabeg heritage helps me be a part of the landscape in a different way, thinking of my ancestors and being a part of that.”

A contemporary impressionist oil painter and snow sculptor based in St. Paul, Minn., Heather regularly goes on what she calls “Artventures” on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Each year, the Superior Hiking Trail Association partners with a local artist to produce Trail-inspired art for our Trail Store, which raises funds for the management and maintenance of the SHT.

This year, we are thrilled to announce the talented Heather Friedli is our 2024 SHTA Artist of the Year.

SHTA Trail Store Manager Jody Nonnemacher models “Lupine Views of Lake Superior,” now available on three different shirt options.
View from the Top” is available on post cards. Additional products featuring Heather’s work will arrive later in the summer.
Heather Friedli, right, with her hiking partner Annika Moe, left, in 2023 when they completed Heather’s final section of the SHT from the Northern Terminus to Pincushion Mountain. Also pictured is Heather’s pomchi dog and steady wilderness companion, Tilly, who hiked 53 of the 54 miles on the SHT’s most remote and northern section all on her own. Photo courtesy of Heather Friedli.

Heather’s work is incredibly vibrant and dynamic, full of movement and the joy of being out in nature. Part of what draws Heather to the outdoors is moving through the landscape and experiencing it in transit, she said.

“The feeling of movement and rhythm, I like to use as elements of the work. When I’m working large-scale, I feel like my whole body can be a part of the creation. My brush strokes become a full body movement,” Heather said.

Heather’s painting “Lupine Views of Lake Superior” is a prime example of how she uses movement in her work, capturing perfectly what it feels like to be on Wildflower Hill — the inspiration for the piece — north of Grand Marais.

Her paintings of the Superior Hiking Trail are so accurate that locations along the Trail are easily recognizable, like the 270-Degree Overlook in “View from the Top.”

Heather took her first backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail in October 2013 with her husband and 1-year-old son. “It was shoulder season. We got all the weather including snow and rain. A couple of years later, we went with our son who was then 6, and our new 1-year-old son,” she said.

Heather loves experiencing the Trail with her children. “Their sense of wonder, you have to slow down. You can’t rush it. They have so many questions about things,” she said.

During “artventures,” Heather carries a waterproof trail journal, pencil, and her camera to document the landscape for later inspiration. She also draws on her extensive knowledge of the flora, fauna, land, and their significance to her ancestors. Heather always carries tobacco in her backpack to leave sacred offerings.

Heather’s family is from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians in Michigan. She is also of Hispanic and indigenous descent from the region of Sonora, Mexico.

“When I encounter a grandmother tree or a place where animals died on the Trail, some kind of offering is important to me,” Heather said. “You want to connect with the spirits, but also honor nature.”

Heather’s paintings of the Superior Hiking Trail are so accurate that locations along the Trail are easily recognizable, like the 270-Degree Overlook in “View from the Top.”

Heather Friedli works on “Dancing Birches,” another painting inspired by an SHT artventure, in her St. Paul gallery.

Nature has been a constant through-line in Heather’s artwork. She’s made art her entire life, and received a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2005. After graduating, Heather got certified as a Wilderness First Responder and worked in outdoor education in Ely, Minn. for a few years and took a break from creating art.

In 2010, she thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and earned her trail name “Crafty” from making most of her own gear for the 2,000+ mile adventure — tent, pack, stove, shoes — and having the skillset to repair the gear of fellow thru-hikers while on trail.

On the AT, “I was seeing these beautiful landscapes, vistas from mountain tops, rural villages, and rolling plains. After a couple of months on trail, I was feeling the landscape as a painting,” she said. “I could smell the paint and feel brushstrokes.”

“Dancing Birches” is the final Friedli piece the SHTA will feature this year on an upcoming Trail Store product. Photo courtesy of Heather Friedli.

She started carrying a watercolor set during her thru-hike, and when she returned to Ely, she returned to painting and has been a professional artist ever since.

Along with her painting, Heather is also a professional snow sculptor and captain of Team Kwe, the only Indigenous snow sculpting team in North America. The team also includes her sister Juliana Welter and artist Maggie Thompson. Kwe in Anishinaabemowin means woman in English.

Snow sculpting also connects Heather to nature. “Water is something that goes in cycles. It was in the ocean, it came to us down from the clouds, now it’s snow. Sometimes people eat it, drink it,” she said. “The art is not permanent; it’s ephemeral. It ties me to the land. I know it’s going to go somewhere else and change forms, but I’ll see it again.

“The impermanence is beautiful in its own right. It’s just like the cycles of life. We’re here for a moment, we’re always changing, and then we go back from whence we came.”

For Heather, art goes in seasons. She lives seasonally. “I think that’s a very natural way to live. In the winter, I’m a snow sculptor because there is snow all around me. After snow season, it’s painting season again. During summer, it’s hot but I gather images for the big painting push in the fall. Then back to snow sculpting again. It’s like a migration of activity.”

Heather said it’s an honor to partner with the Superior Hiking Trail Association.

“I would like to spread the love about the natural world and the Trail, and the beauty that lives here,” Heather said, “to inspire more people to hike and experience the outdoors to foster a sense of stewardship for future generations.

“Get your kids outside! Future generations need to experience the great outdoors and the SHT offers a unique opportunity for families to do so.”

Available now

Learn more about Heather Friedli

To see more of Heather’s work, including snow sculpture, or find an in-person exhibit, go to http://www.friedliarts.com.

To read about her SHT trips and AT thru-hike, visit her Trailjournals site https://www.trailjournals.com/myjournals/27733.

To follow Heather on social media, go to

By Annie Nelson, Development and Communications Director