Three cow elk appear almost ghostlike in the soft stillness of dawn. As the first hints of the morning light reflect against their shrouded figures, the quiet intimacy of this moment is almost palpable against the canvas it is painted on.
Entitled “Three Matriarchs,” the painting captures a reverent memory from artist Kathryn Mapes Turner’s youth. As a fourth-generation Jackson native, one of her roles at the family’s Triangle X Ranch in Grand Teton National Park was to wrangle the horses in from their night pasture on the Snake River before breakfast. Rising at 4 a.m., Kathryn was on horseback before the sunrise, letting her steed guide the way through the darkness. In the river corridor, just as the day was breaking, the pair would encounter elk, and because she was on horseback, they barely noticed her. Wrapped in this cloak of invisibility, Kathryn was able to view the animals in their most natural habitat.
You can still hear the awe in Kathryn’s voice as she recalls the moment. The story is just one of many that illustrate Kathryn’s passion for the natural world and the animals that occupy it.
“I felt like I needed to find a way to express my appreciation for the beauty of this place, so painting became that,” she says from her home just north of town.
Kathryn was drawn to the act of creating art since she was a child and had the fortune of working with mentors who helped foster this love. Conrad Schwiering, one of Jackson’s most famous landscape painters, was a family friend, and loved painting the view from her family’s ranch.
“When I was a little girl, I would see his red Jeep pull into the ranch, and he would pull out these massive canvases,” she says. “He would let me sit there all day and watch these large-scale paintings unfold.”
Conrad was patient, Kathryn says, even as she asked him nonstop questions. It was in these moments that she decided she would pursue art for a living.
“He shared the same level of appreciation and reverence for this place. It was very powerful to think you can use art to write a love letter. And that’s when I really, really decided that’s exactly what I was going to do.”
Kathryn left Wyoming to study, first at the University of Notre Dame, where she spent an influential semester in Rome, and then at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Virginia. While grateful for her education and experience outside of Jackson, when she was away, she felt perpetually homesick.
“I felt like a displaced person,” she says. “I called it my curse. I couldn’t find anywhere else that matched the beauty here, so I felt like I wasn’t going to be happy anywhere else.”
In 2005, Kathryn and two other artists opened Trio Fine Art in Jackson. Eventually, the other two owners dropped out and the gallery evolved into Turner Fine Art. Still located in downtown Jackson, the gallery features other landscape and wildlife artists who share her love for the natural world.
For as much time as she dedicates to art, Kathryn also makes time to get outside. As someone who has watched Jackson evolve over the decades, the recent explosion of growth has her concerned for the animals she holds dear. With an increasing number of summer visitors and bumper-to-bumper traffic, migration routes get cut. And with a record number of bears euthanized due to conflicts with humans — because of unsecured trash cans or people trying to feed them — she wonders if most people realize the impact they have on the area.
“I would argue that everyone who moves here is moving here for the natural world,” she says. “So let’s not ruin it then.”
But with change comes opportunity, and she hopes that those moving to Jackson become involved in conservation efforts.
“We learn from the natural world. I think that’s a really important principle, to make sure we are humble enough — to make sure we are learning from Mother Nature.”