Sporting round wire glasses, artist Wendell Locke Field painted the shaded front porch of a white log cabin, complete with colorful flowers inspired by the plants at his home in Kelly.
“This is the one I chose because I knew it was going to be a hot sunny day,” he said. “This looks like a nice cool place.”
Before the heat set in Saturday, painters set up along the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s Sculpture Trail, overlooking the National Elk Refuge, with sweeping views of the Gros Ventre mountains in the distance.
The refuge meadows below the museum were vibrant and summer green, and people from all over the country milled around the path dressed in sundresses, sandals and wide-brimmed hats.
Some came to bid on artworks, others just to admire the artists’ processes, the scenery and the paintings. Event goers engaged excitedly with artists as they passed, asking about subject matter, medium and technique.
Some works were hyperrealistic, capturing the color, lighting and texture of the subject as if it were a photograph, while others were more stylistic. Some artists used bold colors or brushstrokes to render their subjects in a more interpretive, expressive manner.
The artists worked quickly with all manner of paints and brushes as they chatted with passers-by. Live music added to the festive atmosphere.
“Normally I try to hide out from people,” Field said, “but this is a fun event for talking, and to see all my artist friends, and see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Artist Taryn Boals echoed his sentiment.
“It feels like a high school reunion,” Boals said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a lot of these people, and this community that I love so much. It feels nice to socialize again.”
Boals and Field were among almost 45 artists invited to participate in the museum fundraiser.
This year, there were two ways for artists to participate. Artists could compete for the “Best in Show” award, obtaining a stamp from the museum on the back of their blank canvas, and beginning their work either the day before the event, or the morning of the event at 7 a.m.
Artists could also participate by bringing a finished or partially finished piece. Everyone had to turn in their work no later than noon so their pieces could be displayed for the silent auction.
“This year we were trying to celebrate being able to be back together, it really wasn’t about rules and strict guidelines,” said Michelle Dickson, the museum’s programs and events director.
Dickson estimated 700 people attended. The museum was able to meet its fundraising goal, and sold 86 percent of the new pieces. Dickson noted that the fundraiser helped further the museum’s mission to inspire appreciation of humanity’s relationship with wildlife and nature through arts and education.
Tim Diaz, who works in the museum’s security services, also commented on the charm and importance of the event.
“Most of the time you go to a museum, you see the artwork, but you don’t know who the artist is,” Diaz said. “Here they get to see the artwork and the people creating it, they’re able to ask them questions.”
To prepare for the event, Boals has been traveling to South Park Loop for three weeks to study the landscape and the cattle from the Lockhart ranch.
“I did the background yesterday, the landscape, and then I did the Herefords this morning,” Boals said. “I’ve kinda taken a lot of it from my notes to kind of give them a little bit more detail.”
“I love animals. I’m obsessed. I have a love of horses. You’ll see cows in my work ... wildlife,” said Boals, sporting a T-shirt adorned with miniature leopards.
In fact, many of the artists found inspiration close to home, in the valley’s animal inhabitants. Artist Erin O’Connor spent her time at Plein Air Fest painstakingly rendering a racoon on her small canvas.
“Raccoons mosey through my yard periodically and they’re such really interesting, clever creatures,” O’Connor said. “They’re always up to something, good, bad or indifferent. You can’t help but love ’em. I’m primarily a landscape painter ... and for some reason ... I thought ‘I want to try painting a racoon.’ ”
First-time participant Natalie Connell was one of the artists who chose to capture the landscape of the surrounding elk refuge on the morning of the event.
As a landscape painter, Connell is no stranger to plein air painting, and said she mixes it up between in-studio and plein air painting.
“What I really like about plein air is like it captures an element of something you can’t quite get in the studio. ... There’s a life to it.”