Over the past two years, I've made three different trips to study and paint on the American Prairie Reserve in Montana's northern great plains region. I began this project in 2015 when I was living in NYC and looking for a meaningful story that combined my interests in wilderness conservation, outdoor adventure, and plein-air painting. Located south of Saskatchewan and north of the Missouri River, this zone of eastern Montana has seen very little human impact which makes it feel eerily removed from time. At nearly 3.5 million acres, it is one of only four large-scale intact prairie ecosystems in the world – ninety percent of the ground has never been plowed. The American Prairie Reserve is a privately funded conservation organization that is purchasing privately owned land when it comes on the market and then merging it with with leased government parcels. The reserve is currently a patchwork of parcels totaling almost 400,000 acres, and each year it continues to grow. During my time on the reserve, I worked with a wildlife research group from Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to get some hands-on experience that would inform my artwork.
I will be sharing this body of work in November 2017 at Old Main Gallery in Bozeman, MT. 10% of all sales will benefit the American Prairie Reserve.
Links to all the writing I've published as a part of this project can be found below and an ongoing journal with detailed stories and pictures from this project can be found on my blog. Please read on to learn more about why I have chosen here to paint here and why I believe this effort is relevant to our culture.
WHERE I'VE SHARED THIS PROJECT:
April 29: Grand Central Atelier Blog
April 20: Telluride Mountainfilm Blog
April 16: Absolute Travel Blog
April 8: Newsletter #1: Painting the Prairie
PAINTING THE PRAIRIE: ART + ADVENTURE + CONSERVATION
In April 2015, I spent a month painting on the American Prairie Reserve, an organization in Montana's northern Great Plains that caught my attention because of it's unique approach to land conservation . With a long-term goal of creating a 3.5 million acre wildlife refuge, the Prairie Reserve purchases land when it comes on the market and leases adjacent government parcels, then merges them to create a new wilderness. When it is complete, the reserve is expected to be the largest conservation area in the lower 48 states.
As an artist who has spent the past six years studying the Hudson River School painters and the world they lived in, I am interested in how my work can investigate the subject of wilderness in the context of our time. We no longer have vast expanses of undeveloped land to claim for conservation, which makes the innovative vision of the American Prairie Reserve an inspiring model for our generation. Nature's power to reclaim the land calls to attention the impermanence of our human-built world and highlights our own vulnerability as a species. It is important to preserve these wild areas not only for biodiversity and the health of our planet, but for our own consciousness as a civilized people, a sentiment beautifully summed up in this quote:
"Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water."
- Clinton P. Anderson
Former Senator, New Mexico
I will spend my time on the prairie making drawings, notes, and plein air paintings while working with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Landmark wildlife research crew to gain a deeper understanding of this unique place. In September 2015 and again in the upcoming winter, I will revisit the prairie to paint the landscape in the different seasons. Over the course of the year I will be working in my studio to compose a series of five paintings, each approximately six feet in width, informed by my studies from the field. I will share the resulting body of work in a show planned for spring 2016 that will lead the viewer through an intimate investigation of the prairie with delicate botanical illustrations, sketches, handwritten notes, and large-scale oil paintings that depict the wide vistas and Montana skies. My work will depict the prairie grasslands and the effort to conserve them in the time-honored tradition of painting, forever preserving this moment in culture for posterity.
Joining me on the prairie will also be musician Jessica Kilroy who plans to record elemental sounds (such as wind in the grass, bird calls, and thunder) to use in a musical composition that will accompany my gallery exhibit. Kilroy's work will bring attention to the value of an unpolluted natural soundscape and add a high level sensory experience for the viewer.
During the final week of my trip, photographer Eugenie Frerichs will be with us to document Jessica and I at work in the field. I'm excited to have her perspective on the project because much of her personal work as an artist and photographer explores the concept of wilderness.
Historically, artists have played an influential part in shaping American perceptions of wilderness and its role in our national identity. I see my work as an extension of this tradition, exploring a contemporary example of wilderness conservation using a medium and a process that is identical to those of an earlier generation of artists. Among the first European explorers discovering the west were landscape painters like Thomas Moran and Sanford Robinson Gifford who recorded their findings in sketches, small paintings and journals while traversing the unknown territory beyond the Mississippi. Back in their studios, these artists created monumental paintings that glorified the pristine beauty of the American wilderness. Their work had mass cultural appeal and presented a sentimental vision of wilderness to the American people. This moment in art history became known as “The Hudson River School” and is now recognized as the first art movement to originate on American soil. Their paintings sparked the first conservation movement in this country when Moran’s depictions of Yellowstone directly influenced the creation of our first National Park.
As a senior fellow at the Hudson River Fellowship, I have spent the past six years studying this moment in art history and painting in the same Catskills and White Mountains locations where these early artists made their work. In the American Prairie Reserve, I see an opportunity to celebrate an exciting new chapter in conservation history, recognizing nature’s ability to restore itself when the right conditions are created by a group of well organized individuals. This work will inspire not only our generation but those who come after us with a message of hope from the front lines of American conservation.
This project is made possible with support from