Great Basin's First Winter AIR

Tilford Cabin, watercolor on paper, Art and Article By Suze Woolff

I was privileged to be Artist-in-Residence (AIR) at Great Basin National Park this winter. Even though working and hiking conditions would certainly be less restrictive in other seasons, I loved the quiet solitude. Whenever I veered off the few closed access roads or often-used trails (one!), I crossed no other human tracks. The first couple of weeks offered some beautiful backcountry skiing, although for a sea-level inhabitant, it was strenuous to break my own trail at high elevation. It was inspirational to experience such expanses alone.

(That’s a deer track, climber’s right, not another ski track : – )

Happy as I was to have heat and hot water in a small Park Service cabin, not being able to work outside for very long meant concentrating on smaller rather than larger paintings. So instead of my typical residency agenda of large pieces requiring prolonged concentration, I went hunting for endemic landscapes, explored areas of recent burns, and let the place speak to me in its own language. (I also found the surfaces of Lehman Cave to be even harder to paint than the char textures of burned trees!)

Clearing at Meadow Views, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″. The Park has an archive of my paintings here.

While there I read William L. Fox‘s the void, the grid & the sign, which profoundly enriched my sensory experience of the vast spaces I was seeing and my understanding of the area’s history — not only as factual narrative but as aesthetic and epistemological treatise mixed with personal reflections — fancier than my efforts but not dissimilar to my residency.

On trips outside the Park, as the snowfall of my first weeks melted and shrank, while watching where to place my feet, I began picking up small, typical human detritus–rusty tin cans, beer bottles, etc. and pairing it with natural scraps–pine cones, cottonwood leaves, etc. I could set them up on my small table and thus began a new series: Nevada Still Lifes.

Left to right, top row: Turkey feathers, shot-up can; Can and pinon cones; Coffee can and cottonwood leaves. Bottom row: Beer bottle and Douglas fir cones, Rebar and trilobite shale, Sardine can and spruce cones.

I am at work crafting a human/nature book form for them — stay tuned for updates!

Besides helpful Park and Great Basin Foundation staff, a shout-out to Bristlecone General Store/Stargazer Inn for helping fill in missing supplies, book nook and folding me into such community events as Book Club, Knitting Club, Moonlight Hike, Mardi Gras parade and the warmth and interest of the Baker, Nevada citizens I met there.

Both the landscape and the people make me eager to return!