Friday, July 22, 2011

Creativity bustin' out all over in Sublette County

Pinedale's past stretches way back into epic tectonic shifts and volcanoes, fire and brimstone, water and wind.

Native Americans arrived eons later. Then came the mountain men, celebrated in the town's history museum. Settlers and hunters and coal-bed methane drillers. Artists, too.

Pinedale's art history doesn't stretch as far back as the geological uplifts that made the mountains. But there are local petroglyphs etched by Native Americans, and people still find carefully crafted arrowheads made by Native artisans. And, while the Green River Rendezvous was undoubtedly dominated by fur-trading and partying, it also featured music and swapping of handmade goods and the occasional illustrator attempting to limn the proceedings on paper or canvas.

Artists may bring some tectonic shifts to the Pinedale of the future. Lest you think that's about as likely as winter ozone pollution alerts in this formerly sleepy hunting/fishing/logging town, well, think again. The energy boom led to winter ozone alerts. Not exactly what you want your town to be known for. But with growth comes change and some of that ain't so bad.

The Pinedale Fine Arts Council has long been a model to other local arts councils in the state and the region. The PFAC traces its beginnings to 1976 when local teacher Arlinda McLaughlin thought it would be a great idea to bring the Utah Symphony to tiny Pinedale. The town has always thought big when it comes to the arts, and the tradition continues with Jo Crandall and board and Dana Tully and staff and many volunteers.

The new library here and the new branch in neighboring Big Piney features sculpture and artwork by locals. Sublette County Library board member Cat Urbigkit is proud of the Pinedale library and is urging a strong arts presence at the Big Piney facility. Cat is a county sheep rancher but it best known for her children's books and photography. She was signing her books recently at the National Library Association conference in New Orleans. Her photography has been featured at the Governor's Capitol Art Exhibition in Cheyenne.

In April 2012, Pinedale will be the site of a statewide visual arts symposium. Local artists spearheaded this effort through its local Pipeline Art Project. Co-sponsors include the Wyoming Arts Council and the University of Wyoming Art Museum.

Wildlife artist Tucker Smith lives on the western edge of the county near Cora. His work is featured in Jackson's National Museum of Wildlife Art and is museums and galleries all over the world. He's the recipient of a Wyoming Governor's Arts Award. Also residing in the wilds near Cora are novelist and essayist Gretel Ehrlich and singer/songwriter Miss "V" the Gypsy Cowbelle, a performer who cans her own elk meat, makes her own banjos and recently had a bit part in a Robert Redford film.

Andy Nelson is a cowboy poet and humorist from Pinedale. He's performed at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, and at the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Colorado.

Local metal artist JB Bond just bought a beat-up old tractor and plans to transform it into a nine-foot-long machine gun. An ironic reversal on the old "swords into plowshares" verse.

JB is pitching in on Pinedale's new public art program, headed up by artist David Klaren (see previous blog entry). Also part of that local effort is longtime resident Sue Sommers. Sue and her husband ranch west of town. Artist and building contractor David Klaren built Sue's studio, an addition to the couple's ranch house. Her light-filled studio overlooks the Green River Valley where Native Americans camped and hunted for generations.

Sue also paints acrylic landscapes on canvas and paper. Her latest series is called "Remembered Color," acrylic paintings that are more abstract than most of her work. She earns part of her living as a graphic designer, so it's not surprising that she also works in the book arts.

Sue's paintings earned an honorable mention in the 2010 Wyoming Arts Council visual arts fellowships. She displayed those paintings during a Wednesday visit by Wyomingarts and biennial fellowship curator Nancy Bowen. These watercolor portraits are part of Sue's "Children Looking Back" series. She transformed childhood photos into paintings, filtering them through the artistic lens of 40-some years.

Back in the day, Sue and several other local artistic rowdies conducted a unique project that involved painting words on real cows and recording the random poetry that resulted. Caused quite a stir at the time, with some people wondering if this was a good use of time and energy and state public art money (it wasn't a state-funded art project but that fact got lost in the hubbub). Sue has settled down a bit since then. That doesn't make her work any less startling. Go to her web site to take a look. Better yet, come to the WAC fellowship biennial show Nov. 4 and see it in person.

Photos (top to bottom):
1. Sue Sommers at her Sublette County studio. She holds one of her watercolor portraits from the Children Looking Back" series: "Class Photo 1968: Deborah," 40 x 26 inches.
2. In Sue's studio: "Crabapple 1010" (on left), acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches; “Inappropriate 1960," watercolor, 26 x 20 inches.
3. Wyoming summer morning sun streaks in Sue's studio windows for art-making and tomato-growing.

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