Painting a Sense of Place

Daliah Singer | October 16, 2018 

Last night’s rain sits on the tips of the grass, filling the air with a fresh, dewy scent. Birds tweet beneath feathery clouds, while bison roam nearby but out of sight. Uintas — small brown squirrels native to the western United States — scamper across the field, disappearing into the surrounding aspens and sage grass. The Teton Range, snow-covered and sharp, rises at our backs.

Kathryn Mapes Turner ’95 is so fixated on the square of landscape in front of her that she doesn’t seem to notice any of it. Turner is concentrating on her “topic sentence” — what she wants to say with today’s painting. She wears a brown apron dotted with blue and yellow paint over a puffy jacket, keeping the early-morning May chill from shortening her time en plein air.

After composing a couple of quick sketches in pencil, she turns to her paints. She swirls two shades of brown together with a touch of black, holding up the result every few seconds to check it against the trees she’s replicating. She does the same with the greens. Satisfied with the hues, she positions the wood palette in the crook of her left elbow and begins to add color to her small canvas. With each brushstroke, the aspens and shrubbery come more into focus. Turner approaches her work with the precision of a scientist — single-minded and exacting — but her fingers also move freely, hopping from one edge of the canvas to the other.

The 46-year-old has lived here, in Jackson, Wyoming, almost her entire life. Every detail of this place — a rugged mountain town surrounded by protected national park and forestland — lives in her bones and manifests in her paintings. During our hour or so outside this morning, the light shifts, the clouds rearrange themselves and new shadows appear. Turner relies on her initial topic sentence to guide her as much as she lets muscle memory take over, because even when she is painting what’s right in front of her, she’s also communicating her life story and the story of this isolated place — a saga that began generations before she was born.

Read more here.

 by Daily Domer Staff

Posted In: ND Magazine