By Gabe Allen
As the snow recedes off south-facing buttes and low-lying flats, Indian potatoes and sagebrush buttercups are starting to bloom. While the human residents of Jackson Hole are isolated and distressed, the ecological processes of spring are proceeding as normal, unaware of our plight.
It is this sentiment that, in part, gave rise to Turner Fine Art’s coming exhibition, “While We Were Still … Flowers Bloomed.”
“The natural world just keeps on going. They’re not missing a step. They’re right on track,” said Kathryn Mapes Turner. “The birds are migrating back and the elk have started to move.”
Since the coronavirus crisis began, Turner has turned to painting and the natural world to stay present, calm and anchored to a purpose.
She wasn’t the only one to suddenly have more time for work as the American economy slowed to a near halt. When she began to reach out to artists about a possible show in late March, the response was overwhelmingly positive. And once she got Tim Newton on board — he’s former chairman of the board and CEO of the Salmagundi Club in New York City — connections to nationally renowned painters ensued.
The exhibition will include paintings of flowers created during the coronavirus pandemic by 13 American painters. It will hang in Turner Fine Art from June 15 to July 31, unless nonessential businesses are still closed at that time, in which case it will be unveiled online.
One artist who Turner is especially excited to work with is Sherrie McGraw, a lauded figure and portrait painter, author and instructor who lives in Taos, New Mexico.
“Ever since I was just learning to paint I would pore over her work and her book. She is an artists’ artist,” Turner said. “I’m gobsmacked to have her work in the exhibition.”
Turner’s current mentor, John Felsing, will also be featured in the show.
“His feedback has really pushed my work. I’ve grown so much because of him,” Turner said.
For her own contributions to the show, Turner has turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: the florist at Albertsons. After a trip to India this fall she was inspired to infuse her often-muted and subtle work with bright colors.
The flowers she plans to paint are inspired by “whatever Albertsons has.”
Turner’s love for flowers began before she entered kindergarten or picked up a paintbrush. As the only little girl on the family-owned Triangle X ranch, she was the happy recipient of special attention from her great aunt, who came to visit every summer.
Her aunt was a nun in Ontario, Canada, but every summer she would be granted permission by her Mother Superior to spend time on the family ranch.
“She wasn’t even 5 feet tall. She wore size 13 kids shoes,” Turner said. “She wore her habit every day and said a prayer every morning.”
Turner and her great aunt would wander in the foothills of the Tetons every morning on the search for beautiful wildflowers. After their ramble they would return to the ranch and press the flowers between Salt Lake City phone books (the Jackson ones weren’t big enough). Then they would carefully cut and arrange the flowers onto greeting cards to sell to the ranch hands. Any money they made went to the intellectually disabled children that her aunt taught back in Ontario.
“It taught me a lot about composition and how to use shapes within a space,” Turner said.
In the benevolent spirit of her great aunt, Turner hopes to brighten the world with the upcoming exhibition.
“I think we need beauty as a counterpoint to the headlines right now,” she said. “We always need art, but now more than ever.”￼