Kathryn Mapes Turner’s family has lived on the Triangle X Ranch in Grand Teton National Park for four generations.
One of her favorite sights happens every night in the summer when a herd of close to 100 horses gallop out to pasture. The horses, done with their work for the day, kick up clouds of dust. Turner finds the clouds beautiful, especially the way they diffuse light and add an ethereal quality to the herd. She never tires of the sight.
Learning she was selected as one of two featured artists for the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival, set to take place Sept. 4 through Sept. 15, was particularly meaningful. It gave her an opportunity to translate that image onto a canvas and honor Jackson, the town she calls home. Turner has been attending the festival since she was a girl.
“I grew up loving the Fall Arts Festival and admiring the featured work of the featured artist,” she said. “They were all my heroes. They were all people that I looked up to throughout my career. So this is a real coming-of-age honor.”
The Fall Arts Festival includes a featured painter every year, but for the 35th anniversary celebration, organizers also named a featured sculptor for the second time in the festival’s history. John Simms, a sculptor represented by Diehl Gallery, was awarded that honor alongside Turner, whose opportunity to be one of the festival’s featured artists was threatened when she tore her ACL on the first big powder day of the past ski season.
The injury taught Turner how physical painting is, especially on large canvases. She likes to paint standing up and, after the injury, couldn’t stand without the help of crutches.
Still, she worked diligently from her studio to create her featured piece, adamant that her limited mobility would not lessen the quality of her work.
In the finished product, a large canvas, a horse gallops almost out of the frame, kicking up a cloud of dust that envelops it in an an cloudy fog. The outline of the Tetons in the canvas’ backdrop grounds the painting in the landscape without detracting from the horse’s majesty.
Dedicating herself to her work allowed Turner to spend hours breathing life into her beloved view of horses in movement.
“I was able to translate, to feel movement through that image,” she said. “The horse became my legs.”
Though he was born and raised on the East Coast, Simms’ love of the West and skiing brought him to Colorado in the ’60s. He has a background as a product designer, notably creating backcountry avalanche probes and shovels as well as his own line of fishing products. That work made him pay attention to mathematics and geometry, and his sculptures are inspired by basic geometric forms such as triangles, circles and rectangles. Eventually, Simms sold his company and took up sculpture full time.
For the festival Simms is making a series of eight geometric bison sculptures. The free-standing metal structures will be roughly 28 inches wide, 16 inches tall and 2 inches deep. Four will have patinas of bronze, ranging from deep dark brown to shades of green. The other four will be made from steel and painted various colors.
Simms and his metal bison have a storied history. He created his first sculpture in 1992, after he rescued six metal arcs from an Idaho Falls salvage yard and brought them to his house, where he got up on a stepladder to take a look at the metal in his driveway. The aerial view reminded him of the shape of a bison, broken down to its most geometric elements.
“Not long after I had put it up in a side yard, some people came down to look at some other sculptures and ended up falling in love with that [bison] piece and bought it,” Simms said.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Shortly after, Simms was commissioned to make a family of bison for a couple, and people continued to be drawn to the geometric simplicity of his work. Simms attributes the bison sculptures’ popularity to the fact that it’s an accessible entry into abstraction.
“I think people get a kick out of it because although it’s very abstract, it’s still very identifiable,” he said.
Simms believes his inclusion as a featured artist, not only as a sculptor but an abstract sculptor, will shake up the status quo of the Fall Arts Festival’s conservative approach to art.
“I think the art program has been pretty traditional art, traditional painting, nothing really abstract,” Simms said. “And this is stretching things a little bit, and I think it’s going to be nicely received.” ￼