Plein Air on the Plains

From the Farm:


Published by the Casper Journal August 9, 2011

It’s been an artful summer. I started by watching a friend, Alicia Blevins, complete a pastel drawing of the plains of Wyoming in one hour. Wow! In only 60 minutes, she created a masterpiece. It accurately displayed Wyoming hills, a winding road and wildflowers. I was in awe.
A few weeks later, I coincidentally met one of my neighbors for the first time — Ginny Butcher. Discovering that she was an artist, I checked out her website and saw the term, “Plein air.” At first, I thought it was a typo. Don’t you spell plain with an “a?”
I learned the truth when I visited Ginny’s house a few weeks later. From the outside, her home resembled most of the others in our small, farming community. However, once inside, my children and I were overwhelmed with beauty. Ginny graciously showed me her painting studio, photo studio and display table. But the tour didn’t stop there. Stepping onto her back terrace was like stepping into a painting. The view was incredible. Plains as far as the eye could see. Green vines crawled up her deck, a stream twisted through the property, and wild flowers grew on the hills and in her garden. My children loved the rambling bridge and pathways through the tall grass.
Ginny explained what “plein air” means. In French, it describes being outside — painting in open air, from a real view, not just from a photograph. It wasn’t a typo, artists prefer the French term.
The day after visiting Ginny, a friend gave us a private tour of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody ... another wow. We saw interns carefully checking and preserving historical posters and artifacts. One room stored Remington pieces not currently on display. The room had a regulated temperature, and we spoke quietly while inside. The precious masterpieces portrayed the American West. The worth of the paintings was astronomical.
Did Remington paint in “en plein air?” I’m not sure. (Remington lived in New York.) Nevertheless, the art was amazing.
After leaving the museum, we drove west from Cody, through some of the most gorgeous “plein air” of the world. At Buffalo Bill State Park, the reservoir was overflowing. The Shoshone National Forest displayed its usual incredible grandeur, and we soon were nearly into Yellowstone. As we pulled over to take a photo, the vehicle behind us stopped and the family asked us to take their photo. “We’re from Chicago,” they said. “Where are you from?”
“Wyoming,” I said, almost embarrassed at the short drive we had taken to enjoy what the world comes to visit. We waved as they drove on into the park. Our conversation was a good reminder to enjoy what we have.
A few weeks later, we spent some time on a friend’s ranch in Clark, Wyo. Have you ever been to Clark? It’s a mere dot on the map. I sat on the porch, enjoying the sunny flowers and watching the overflowing stream gurgle by. In the pond, my children spent hours on the paddleboats, trying to catch fish and having water fights. Another “plein air” experience.
I’m not an artist. I’ll never own a Remington, or do a chalk pastel, or have my own in-house studio. I do love good artwork, however, and I may consider myself a bit French now whenever I’m outside enjoying the Wyoming summer. We have views to inspire every artist, even the artist in each of us. And whether or not we capture it on a canvas, beauty is something we’ll never lack in this state — especially the “plein air” on the plains of Wyoming.