I arrived at Mountainfilm directly after spending a month painting and exploring the American Prairie Reserve (APR), located in Montana’s northern great plains region. The APR is creating a 3.5-million acre wildlife reserve by purchasing land when it comes on the market, leasing adjacent government parcels and then merging them to create one open space. When it’s complete, the APR will be the largest conservation area in the lower 48 states.
In April and May, I made 25 plein air oil paintings and graphite drawings while exploring the reserve with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation’s Landmark wildlife research crew. This initial group of paintings and drawings will serve as inspiration for a series of 6-foot-wide paintings that celebrate conservation and the prairie ecosystem. The final series will be exhibited in spring 2016.
Sharing the initial group of plain air paintings with the Mountainfilm community was a wonderful opportunity to get feedback and to celebrate the completion of a major milestone. I’ve since been spending the summer raising money and planning for the next stage: a month-long artist residency in Wyoming, another trip to the prairie reserve in September and a six-month phase of focused studio time to complete the large paintings.
At Telluride’s Stronghouse Gallery, all the paintings and drawings were on display and were accompanied by a musical installation by Jessica Kilroy. Kilroy joined me for one week on the APR and is developing a full-length album of music that incorporates field recordings from the prairie. For this initial installation, she captured rattling bones, wind in the grass, squelching mud and prairie dog chirps—which she transformed into a beautiful melody.
Throughout the festival weekend, I was present in the gallery working on another project: live portrait sessions with Mountainfilm contributors. Each person sat for 2 to 3 hours while I captured their likeness. This quiet stillness together was in stark contrast to the buzz and social activity of the festival weekend. As each portrait was finished, I added it to the gallery walls.
After spending a month in quiet isolation on the prairie, the heightened stimulation of the busy festival was an extreme contrast. My initial shock wore off and I soon found myself swept away with inspiration from all the interesting people and fascinating stories that filled the tiny town of Telluride. By the time I left, I felt recharged with new ideas, new friendships and new commitment to my own work.
Thank you to the entire Mountainfilm community for all your support, and especially to those who took the time to pose for the portraits.
—Emilie Lee, Mountainfilm Artist in Residence, 2015