Diane Kaup Benefiel’s art career has been launched into space.
The Wilson illustrator’s drawings are ubiquitous in Jackson Hole, from her cartoon-style house ads on the pages of this newspaper starting in 1977 to her classic ski posters that adorn ski shacks all over the valley. Now her art has made it beyond Earth’s gravitational pull.
Patches featuring her artwork are orbiting the planet inside the International Space Station.
“It’s out of this world!” Benefiel exclaimed on her Facebook page last week, accompanying a photo of the Teton County Search and Rescue patch floating above the Cupola window on the space station.
The patch was one of several Dr. Will Smith, medical director of Search and Rescue, gave to his friend and military colleague, fellow U.S. Army Col. Drew Morgan, early in 2019. Dr. Morgan was selected for the space program in 2013 and is now serving a nine-month mission on the space station.
Smith has been following his friend’s space exploits on Instagram (@astrodrewmorgan) and via NASA, and was delighted to receive photographs with the patches he had given Morgan.
“It was just so cool to see it there at that capsule entrance,” Smith said. “It’s been awesome. We watched his launch, some of the space walks. I’ve been trying to keep up with as many of his activities as I can.”
In the sphere of small-town coincidences, Benefiel also designed the Jackson Hole Fire/EMS patch, which Smith also gave to Morgan. A photo of that patch was also beamed down to Wyoming. Smith also serves as medical director for Fire/EMS. Benefiel met and worked with Smith when she served as an emergency medical technician in the late 1990s.
Shortly after Teton County Search and Rescue was founded in 1993, Coordinator Alan Merrell asked Benefiel to design a logo. She chose a double fisherman knot on a red climbing rope to border a high-angle rescue silhouette in front of the Tetons. She created it as a labor of love, she said.
“I got paid, not in cash, but in experiences,” Benefiel said. “I did a lot of things just because it was something I loved.”
After months of attending SAR meetings, Benefiel joined the team and served from 1994 to 2000.
Her Facebook post has brought fans of Benefiel’s artwork out of the woodwork, including old high school friends and faraway cousins, “which is really, really cool,” she said.
She’s got the SAR patch in space as the screen saver on her cellphone.
“I’m struck by how well the colors go with the planet,” she said. “It’s kind of those candy colors I’ve always liked, and they really pop on that blue planet.”
This version of the article corrects the year Smith gave patches to Morgan (2019) and another typo confusing the names of doctors Morgan and Smith. — Ed.