Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Pandemic tip: You can view most Wyoming public art from the comfort and safety of your car

I was noodling around on my PC and I clicked on the Cheyenne Arts web site. I was pleased to see an upgraded site now includes a Cheyenne Arts Public Art Tour. Kudos to Bill Lindstrom and the tech-savvy people who compiled the tour. Open the site and find a portfolio of the 82 registered public artworks. Click on the photo to go to the page to find more photos and some background on the piece. Location is listed at the bottom of the page. There's a link to a Google Maps which takes you to the map and lists the public art's latitude and longitude. This assists those touring with the help of GPS and also geocaching aficionados. When I was at the Wyoming Arts Council, I was part of many discussions for online tours in Cheyenne, other communities, and statewide. Locally, it never happened until Arts Cheyenne took it on. 

Sheridan Public Arts has been around since 1992. Its permanent collection boasts 59 pieces. Artists and museums loan pieces to exhibit on Grinnell Plaza and downtown. One of the latest is a sculpture by the late Native American artist Allan Houser. No better way to spend a summer day -- tour the art and wrap it up at Black Tooth Brewing Company for craft beers and discussion. 

Not sure if Casper has an online public art tour but the city has many pieces of representational and non-representational artwork. One of my faves is on the Casper College campus. It's "Man and Energy" by Robert Russin. Its somber nature flashed me back to my duck-and-cover nuke drill days. The artist, who died in 2007 was a New York transplant who taught at UW for almost four decades. He is best known for his massive bronze Lincoln head perched at the top of Sherman Hill. Visit Casper is developing an Arts & Culture Pass. Not many offerings yet but these things take time. 

Russin also is known for the playful family sculpture installed in 1983 on UW's Prexy's Pasture. "The University Family" represents a nuclear family of three in white marble. Recently, it has been criticized because it doesn't represent a broader range of UW students and family. One proposal is to move it indoors to protect it and replace it with a more monumental sculpture, such as a bronze of graduating students or a bucking horse and rider. As if the UW campus doesn't already have bucking horses and riders aplenty.

Here's the thing about public art: it's easy to criticize because it's so public. In our bitterly divided country, artwork can be attacked from many sides. And is. The coal/oil/gas lobby that pours millions into UW objected to a public artwork called "Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around" by Chris Drury. UW decided to spirit it away in the dead of night and allegedly burned its beetle-killed logs and chunks of coal in the campus furnace. Many art students were kept warm that night by a funeral pyre of public art.

Russin's "Fountainhead" sculpture outside of the Casper City Hall came under fire for its water feature. The sculpture shows three stylized red oilfield workers surrounding a pole that represents an oil well. Water once shot out of the top to represent oil but had the bad manners to dampen city bureaucrats on Casper's many windy days. Now the water feature ponds peacefully below the artwork.   

Get more on the Casper arts scene via the ARTCORE site. 

The best-known public art program in Wyoming is in Jackson. 

When I started making work trips to Teton County in 1991, the town's library was in a log cabin. A sleek new library replaced it and is now home to a unique public artwork, "Filament Mind." It's indoors so it's a bit less visible than most public art. But it's worth a visit. A short description:

Installed in January 2013, the sculpture is visually arresting: nearly 1,000 thread-like filaments cascade from a mainframe column. Transcending its technological sophistication, the sculpture exudes a life-like aesthetic, at times resembling a bird in flight, a waterfall, a mountain, a crater, even the willows that whistle around the valley. Each filament flows from the column to the wall and an anchor point tagged by a Dewey Decimal System section title.


When a visitor begins a search on WyldCat – the online inventory of the library organized by the Dewey Decimal System – a LED light glows on the filament corresponding with that Dewey Decimal section title – say “International Relations” – and related topics glow as well – like “Political Science.”


Filament Mind is designed to be the visual brain of the library and by extension, the community.

Wyomingites from less scenic parts of the state pick on Jackson Hole for its chi-chi attributes. See "Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West" by Justin Farrell and Tim Sandlin's "The Pyms: Unauthorized Tales of Jackson Hole." I've made my share of smart-ass remarks on the subject. 

But Teton County boosts Wyoming's stature as an arts-friendly state. Rich residents are arts patrons and assist arts orgs and facilities with generous donations. The annual Old Bill's Fun Run is a Teton County tradition and raises a ton of money for local orgs. Local, state, and federal funds are a part of the mix.

The Hole is home to the National Museum of Wildlife Art and its amazing collections. It hosts tours of its outdoor sculpture. Many artists and writers I know came to Jackson in the good ol' days of cheap, crowded housing (think ski bum) and many short-term service-industry jobs. Many fled as prices climbed but those creative people who stayed are a stubborn lot. 

For insight on the Teton County art scene, go to Tammy Christel's Jackson Hole Art Blog and Jackson Hole Public Art

The Wyoming Arts Council supervises the state's public art initiative. Go to for more info and calls for entries.

As the pandemic winds down (we hope), summer visitors may be feeling a bit skittish about touring Wyoming (see "Least Vaccinated U.S. Counties Have Something in Common: Trump Voters"). It may be tough to feel safe at a jam-packed music festival or brewfest. 

But no worries, as most public art can be viewed from the comfort and safety of your vehicle. My high-risk family and I cruised Cheyenne's Paint Slingers Art Festival last July. We watched many of the muralists at work, even shouted out questions to the artists and they shouted their answers. We also attended movies and concerts at the Terry Ranch's Chinook Drive-in. We viewed from our car and listened via a dedicated FM station. 

Covid-19 changed so much. We felt the absence of people gathering to enjoy music, dance, and theatre. It also showed us that creativity can bloom in hard times. 

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