Lifestyle & Luxury
Its rugged landscape and abundant wildlife have long drawn artists seeking to capture the spectacular scenery of Jackson, Wyoming. Western landscapes painted by Thomas Moran and photographed by William Henry Jackson in the late 1800s and early 1900s were some of the earliest images many Americans had of the area and piqued the interest of adventurers and dreamers alike. The pictures also helped convince Congress to make Yellowstone the nation’s first national park, in 1872. Nearby, Grand Teton National Park followed in 1929.
“Jackson Hole is prized for its natural beauty and abundance by artists,” says Ponteir Sackrey, president of the Center Fund, the fundraising arm of the Center for the Arts in Jackson. “That heritage and lineage has been passed down and attracts people interested in culture. The gallery scene is robust and that’s what differentiates Jackson from other mountain resort towns.”
The community is also involved, which helps the art scene thrive. “We have supporters and funders from every walk of life,” Sackrey says. “Some contribute to the space itself, while others give on a regular basis to the programs they like within the center, like dance, live theater or the museum.”
Art Center programs appeal to both residents and visitors, she says. “There is incredible talent that comes to an event like the music festival during the summer and a lot of it is very reasonably priced.” The Grand Teton Music Festival runs for seven weeks, from July 3-Aug. 20 this year.
Art fans visit Jackson year-round, but fall has a special draw. The size of the crowds streaming into the parks dwindles, the weather is still good and there’s a lot to do. Local business leaders years ago created the Fall Arts Festival as a way to attract tourists outside of the popular summer and winter seasons and the event will celebrate its 33rd anniversary Sept. 6-17. More than 50 events, many of them free, are scheduled for the festival held in Jackson and the surrounding area, which is known as Jackson Hole.
Some 30 galleries in downtown Jackson will open their doors for the Palates & Palettes Gallery Walk on Friday, Sept. 8. The businesses showcase the work of top artists while local chefs and caterers offer food and beverages. On Sunday, Sept. 10 the town square will be full of artisans exhibiting and selling their creations at the Takin’ it to the Streets Art Fair, while area restaurants offer samples of their cuisine during Taste of the Tetons. In addition, there’s a wine tasting and silent auction with proceeds benefitting a charity selected by the Rotary Supper Club. It’s all folksy, fun and low-key, attracting Wyoming residents as well as visitors.
On the final Saturday of the festival (this year Sept. 16), artists will again converge on the square for the QuickDraw competition. They have 90 minutes to complete a drawing, painting or sculpture which is then auctioned. A highlight of the auction will be the bidding for a painting by the festival’s featured artist. Mark Keathley has the honors in 2017. The Texan, who started drawing when he was 5, grew up on a farm and drew early inspiration from the land and wildlife. His original painting will be on view throughout the festival and his work is shown at the West Lives On Gallery.
Concurrent with the beginning of Fall Arts Festival is the Western Design Conference. The exhibition and sale, which is entering its 25th year, will be held Sept. 7-10 at the Snow King Center. It features works created by a selection of 100 juried artists from across the country representing “the best of Western design,” says Allison Merritt, who has owned the show since 2014.
“Each year there are some returning artists but we always get a lot of new applicants,” adds Merritt, noting that the artists work in leather, metal, home accents, woodworking, mixed media, jewelry and clothing.
A few things distinguish the WDC from other art, fashion or craft exhibitions. Organizers build a show house within the conference center and top interior designers decorate six rooms that incorporate Western craftsmanship and decor. Also, artists are eligible to win nearly $20,000 in prizes. In addition to the main show’s juried exhibitors, there is a “retail row” for another 20 or so artists and craftspeople.
The artists represent a wide range of styles but what they have in common is that they are making functional art and “pushing the envelope of creativity in design and execution,” Merritt says. And since the creators of the works are on-site, customers can meet, talk and collaborate with them, which adds a personal quality to the process.
While there are luxurious leather dresses and handcrafted dining tables on display, the show also offers items at a variety of price points that are one-of-a-kind. “Each piece is made with thought and care and there’s a story behind it. It never gets old.”
“The energy is so invigorating and inspiring from the artists you meet,” Merritt says. “It’s what the West symbolizes — freedom of exploration and expression.”
In addition to checking out the area’s galleries, a must-stop for visitors is the Museum of Wildlife Art. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the museum has a busy September schedule that is coordinated to coincide with the Fall Arts Festival. Its Western Visions fundraiser includes multiple events and will feature for sale works from more than 100 artists.
Located a short drive from downtown on a butte overlooking the National Elk Refuge, the museum has a ¾-mile sculpture trail, an on-site restaurant, Palette, and a collection of works from 550 artists and more than 5,000 catalogued items of animal art created from 2500 B.C. to the present.
Through Nov. 5, the museum is also featuring “Andy Warhol: Endangered Species,” a portfolio that was commissioned by art dealers Ronald and Frayda Feldman. Like his pop art soup cans and portraits, Warhol’s animal prints are bold and colorful.
If Jackson’s rich gallery life and tantalizing scenery make you want to pick up a paintbrush or camera rather than just look at and buy art, there are plenty of opportunities to do that as well. The Art Association of Jackson Hole offers classes in a variety of media, and businesses such as Wilcox Gallery offering plein air painting workshops.
The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce website lists several sources offering wildlife and photo safaris that range from half-day to multi-day trips. Some tours include camera equipment and photography instruction.
Who knows? The next photo up on a gallery wall might be your own.
For information on the Fine Arts Festival, lodging and activities, visit Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, 260 W. Broadway, Jackson, WY 83001
Western Design Conference, P.O. Box 7889, Jackson, WY 83002
Art Association of Jackson Hole, 240 S. Glenwood, Jackson, WY 83001
Center for the Arts, 240 S. Glenwood, Jackson, WY 83001
National Museum of Wildlife Art, 2820 Rungius Road, Jackson, WY 83001
Suzanne S. Brown is a Denver-based writer and editor who has written for a variety of national and Colorado-based publications.
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