I’m greeted by a grinning and paint-covered Kathryn Turner on the small shoulder of Spring Gulch Road. Kathryn is absolutely ecstatic as she recounts to me her day exploring eight foot tall pieces of paper and a lot of oil paint – she is covered from head to toe. After a little bit of chatting, Kathryn invites me into her car so we can look for the place she will paint out on the Hansen Ranch. We park a little further down in the road and Kathryn starts to methodically pack all her gear into one giant backpack and then proceeds to climb over a fence that leads to the large open field. What an adventure! As we trek across the field, I subconsciously wonder if this is the same place I have driven past so many times. Where I walked with Kathryn seems far from today’s society in the best way – I find myself literally surrounded by nature and open space! I begin to realize the importance of conserving properties such as this.
We finally reach an irrigation ditch that I had never noticed before. Kathryn tells me that as we were walking she had been looking for her inspiration for her painting subject, and her muse for this outing was how the mountains were reflected in the water. After setting up her special “on-the-go” packable easel (created in Cody, Wyoming especially for adventurous painters), paints, and other official looking equipment, she starts to make a frame with her hands in order to focus in on what she will paint. I try it out as well, using the two Ls of my index fingers and thumbs. Soon, we are joined by Leslie Steen from the Land Trust. Leslie and I sit in folding chairs as Kathryn starts her work. The conversation moves from dogs to Leslie’s intriguing snorkeling experience in irrigation ditches in Montana to anything else you can think of – with every new topic, all I can think of is how remarkable these ladies are and how lucky I am to be here.
Before long the light changes as the sun sets over West Gros Ventre Butte, and Kathryn has to make adjustments in order to get in the last details of the painting. Fortunately, she?s anticipated this transition and explains how the most important thing to capture is the reflection of the water; the rest would be “easy” to fill in later. It’s hard to believe how “easy” it is for Kathryn to replicate the scene in front of us onto the canvas until we see her in action. As she switches from the rolling hills of the butte, she focuses in on the Tetons.
Me: What is it like to be an artist here, painting the Tetons?
Kathryn: As a landscape artist, you end up having to figure out how to address the Tetons. They’re just a part of so many different landscapes. They’re kind of the elephant in the valley… What’s interesting is that people didn’t always love and celebrate the Tetons the way we do today. Growing up on the Triangle X, my grandmother used to tell me that before there was access in and out of the valley year-round, people used to feel resentment towards the range – that they blocked us from the rest of the world, especially after a long winter.
Kathryn asks us what colors the mountains are, and as Leslie and I let our eyes train on the Tetons at this time of day, we sense that they are a soft purplish-lavender, highlighted by coral. We pack up right as “mosquito-thirty” (as Leslie calls it) hit and head back to the car. As I climb back into my own car I come to the conclusion that the sunburn and mosquito bites gained from the experience are more than worth it. I’m already looking forward to next week.