Over the past year a handful of sequestered artists nurtured flashes of pandemic creativity in silent studios. These workspaces, created and maintained in the Center for the Arts by the Art Association of Jackson Hole, allowed people like printmaker Lisa Walker to experiment with patterns for her twin companies, Revival JH and Lisa Walker Handmade.

But the conviviality typical of the Art Association’s six studios was noticeably absent.

Now, as the Jackson Hole community and the art nonprofit emerge from the worst throes of the coronavirus pandemic, workshops are again abuzz with artists young and old, and Art Association leadership is delighted by the communal cadence flowing through the halls.

“It’s so nice to see people coming back and out and together as a community, sharing their creativity,” said Anika Youcha, Art Association director of communications.

In the Photography, Video and Digital Arts Studio, photographer Jon Stewart walked Youcha and an adult class through a series of experimental photo-making processes.

Using direct sunshine and nontoxic chemicals, they silhouetted fern stems in blue die, a process known as cyanotype printmaking. With old shoe boxes they made pinhole cameras, which use a small aperture and a good deal of patience to expose a large sheet of film inside the box.

Results vary, but that’s part of the fun.

High schoolers also came for their own experimentation. In the Ceramics Studio they first wedged and hand molded blocks of clay, which were fired raku-style, an ancient Japanese ceramics technique that leaves a custom finish. Youcha said they tossed all sort of items into the kiln with their ceramics: horse hair, sawdust, even old copies of the News&Guide.

“It’s a piece of history going into your pottery,” she said, referring to the newspaper.

The Art Association survived the pandemic thanks to federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and two Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling $284,716, according to the FederalPay.com database. It also received “generous” donations from private donors, Youcha said. But still, many of the pre-pandemic teachers have yet to come back.

“There’s movement, but I think it’s pretty normal for nonprofits and for this town,” said Executive Director Bronwyn Minton, adding that the association is experiencing the same hiring crunch as the rest of Jackson as a result of housing shortages.

Director of studios and ceramics manager Sam Dowd, who has been with the association for over a decade, said only about a third of the teachers have returned, with a possible additional third still considering. Dowd himself is counting his days. He and wife Jenny, both potters, are planning to relocate to northwest Arkansas later this summer to pursue their art full-time. He’s training Cara O’Connor to take over July 1 as studio coordinator.

Sharing in those responsibilities is the new director of education and studios, Jessica Koncak, who left the Jackson restaurant scene during the pandemic to pursue a lifelong desire to embrace the arts. So far in her short tenure, she has helped the association emerge from the pandemic, return to in-person classes and, despite the turnover, welcome back some familiar faces.

Samantha Ritchie, for example, is returning this summer to teach an adult crash course in watercolor, inspired by some of her adventures as a backcountry ranger in Yellowstone National Park, just one activity that takes place in the Drawing, Painting and Printmaking Studio.

Jen McNaughton is back in the studio after earning her master’s in social work. She’ll be teaching a pair of informal jewelry-making “try-nights” in the Silversmithing Studio to let folks experience the magic of hands-on creation and walk away with a new jade ring or silver cuff bracelet.

The popular Teton Mudpots summer sale returns June 23 and 24 with unique ceramic one-offs — what some of the artists refer to as “misfits” and others see as serendipity. As in years past the sale will benefit both the Art Association and the artists, who include many of the usual suspects: Jenny and Sam Dowd, Sheila Tintera, Katy Ann Fox and others.

More than anything the association is thrilled to be opening again. Kids are letting their creativity run wild in the Children’s Studio, and the garage doors are rolling up on the Multi-Purpose Studio, which now features an expanded woodworking station and that has already started to welcome summer camp crews.

Students are still masked, but they’re making art together, buoyed by the infectious energy of communal creation.

“It’s gradually taking us time to get our capacity back up,” Minton said, “but we can see that it’s happening and people are really wanting the kinds of stuff that we’re offering, which is really great.” 

Edt. — This story has been updated to correct information about the Teton Mudpots summer sale. 

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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