Dayton artist Sonja Caywood captures the vanishing; old barns, cattle and other remnants of her Wyoming ranch upbringing that each year becomes scarcer.
Yet her oil paintings in a show sponsored by the Wyoming Wilderness Association take a slightly different turn celebrating pine trees and open space. These paintings of Moran Junction in Grand Teton National Park and Adelaide Lake in the Bighorn mountains might seem to deviate from the aged barns and vanishing lifestyle she often captures with her brush. But the theme is the same, she said. These wild places that used to define the West are disappearing.
When Caywood heard about the show celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, she wanted to find a way to participate. The fewer wild places there are, the more Caywood is drawn to them, both to recreate and to paint. She likes to think of people seeing her paintings of undisturbed mountain lakes, streams and meadows in galleries or online. She wants them to look at her paintings and feel as though they are looking out their own window and seeing what she saw.
“I want to share that beauty with people,” she said.
That’s the idea behind the traveling art show sponsored by the Wyoming Wilderness Association, said Kate Seymour, with the association.
The association led hikes and outings throughout the summer to celebrate the Wilderness Act, which 50 years ago designated Wyoming’s first wilderness areas. The art show is another way to share wilderness with those who haven’t, or can’t, venture into remote areas themselves.
“Having a visual wilderness is something you can still connect to,” Seymour said. “It’s a great way to portray the scenery and the serenity.”
The juried show features paintings and photographs submitted by artists from across the country. Two jurors winnowed down the more than 75 submitted pieces to the 25 works that will hang in Sheridan, Jackson and Laramie.
Artists were allowed to submit three pieces. The only requirement was the pieces couldn’t include people. They didn’t have to represent a specific wilderness area, but instead convey a sense of wildness.
It is that sense of wildness that inspires artist Jenny Williams of Big Horn. When Williams lived in St. Louis, Missouri, her work consisted mostly of cityscapes. When she moved to Wyoming about 20 years ago, her work changed, inspired by the nearby Bighorn mountains where she hikes, and her home on 30 acres where she’s spent the last 15 years planting native plants and removing fences.
One of her paintings in the show captures the eastern slope of the Bighorns — the view she sees from her home. Williams spends more time gardening these days than painting, but she wanted to participate in the show which celebrates the state’s wilderness, including the Cloud Peak Wilderness, one of her favorite places to visit.
While her paintings don’t capture that specific area, they represent the tranquility she feels when she has a moment with nature all to herself or she sees the landscape as it once was, untouched and untrammeled.
Christopher Rok was in his 40s the first time he came West in 2002. The Virginia-based photographer now owns a house in Star Valley which he visits regularly and plans to live in full-time in a few years. He’d been to national and state parks on the East Coast, but nothing prepared him for Wyoming.
“Nothing is quite as vast,” he said.
Rok has two black-and-white images in the show, both of Yellowstone. He took one in the Hayden valley of three bison walking away. The other he captured in the upper Geyser Basin in the winter.
He still finds it amazing that he can be in an incredible place taking in awe-inspiring scenery and having the moment all to himself. There’s a freedom to the openness in the state, he said.
Rok spends his trips in Wyoming exploring — the parks and also the National Forests — trying to capture the serenity and enormity of space he feels when in pristine natural settings. Those are images that appeal to everyone, especially those on the East Coast where he sells most of his work.
“People just long for something like that,” he said.
They are often people who don’t get the opportunity to see that wildness themselves, he said. They are content just knowing it still exists.
Check it out:
Sheridan: Sept. 3 through Oct. 3, Sagebrush Community Arts Center. Reception 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 5.
Jackson: Oct. 6 through Nov. 1, Craig Thomas Discovery Center. Reception 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 12.
Laramie: Nov. 5 through 30th, Berry Biodiversity Center. Reception 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 7.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton