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September 30, 2014
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A Pretty Wild Dream

Moonlit creatures portend Fall Arts honor for young, contemporary painter

On a moonlit walk last summer, Amy Ringholz found herself surrounded by a stunning cast of creatures. Otters and swans swam by, an owl landed on a limb beside her. The wild animals of her wild paintings joined her nocturnal stroll.

“I said my prayers and wished for an opportunity to not only show what I could do, but ... use my talent to inspire everyone that came to see my art,” Ringholz said.

The animals’ presence portended the announcement to come the following day, when Ringholz learned she had been chosen to be the 2012 Fall Arts Festival featured artist. The moment Ringholz moved to Jackson in 2002, she set her sights on becoming the Fall Arts artist—a lofty goal for a then-24-year-old artist in a landscape dominated by seasoned and deceased Western painters.

Something to know about Ringholz: She grabs life by the horns. As effervescent as she is ambitious, she buoyantly barrels through the fences that often pen artists of her age, gender and genre. Instead of offering only a capstone painting, Ringholz has imagined a whole new landscape for the Fall Arts Festival, replete with an intriguing installation and an elaborate thank-you party.

Being chosen as the Fall Arts Festival featured artist could be seen as a feather in her cap, but instead, Ringholz considers it a coronation, a crown with many points: the youngest artist ever chosen for the honor, at 34 years old; the first female artist in 11 years; the first contemporary artist in more than a decade.

What’s more, Ringholz is a local treasure. Everyone knows her exuberant style, on canvas and in person. Imagination infuses all aspects of her life and her art. Ringholz considers Fall Arts as a way to celebrate Jackson Hole. “It’s about being grateful and sharing something great,” she said.

Befitting her boundless creativity, she writes poetry to mark important moments in her life—like becoming the Fall Arts artist. A consummate dreamer, Ringholz gives her imaginings room to breathe and become. The poem, “Dreamers Don’t Sleep,” begins:

if a dream lives inside you, it doesn’t just mingle with your heart.
in the morning it wakes you. it opens your eyes and you smile.
when you look in the mirror you see more than yourself.
you see a strength and a confidence and know that you are destined for greatness.

 

Born in Ohio into a family of artists, Ringholz attended Bowling Green State University, majoring in drawing and minoring in education and ceramics. In 2002, a search for summer jobs online led her to R Lazy S Ranch. The description of living with the wildlife beguiled her. Working as a housekeeper, she sold 30 paintings to guests that summer.

During her first Fall Arts Festival, she skipped work to attend the Town Square QuickDraw. Walking among great Western artists, she vowed one day to join them, and to see her work on the Fall Arts Festival poster.

Fast forward a decade and Ringholz has done just that, and more. She has approached the honor with characteristic gusto. In the past, most artists have presented the Fall Arts Festival selection panel with renderings of paintings. Not Ringholz: She created five full-size paintings in process for the panel to choose from during an evening she curated in her studio barn, replete with cocktails and pulled chicken sandwiches. Apres dinner, she led the panelists to a ring of seats and asked them to close their eyes. One by one, she perched each large painting on an easel and cued, open. She saved the best for last: “Dreamers Don’t Sleep.” Gasps greeted its unveiling.

In the painting, Ringholz tells a Jackson Hole love story, casting herself as the grateful young dreamer enamored with the natural beauty and mystery of her mountain home. Channeling all her adoration for the valley and its residents—wildlife and human life alike—she titled it after nocturnal creativity.

Measuring 72 by 60 inches, “Dreamers Don’t Sleep” impresses in composition and scale. Set at Antelope Flats—the site of Ringholz’s many sunset sketching and journaling sessions—she gathered together nine animals, the most she has ever fit on one canvas: a bull elk, fox, bear, wolf, two hares, a pair of great gray owls, and, hidden amidst, a spider—which she considers the artist of nature, the spinner of stories. Within the ring of wildlife, Ringholz tucked 25 dandelions, a tribute to the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s 25th anniversary.

Each animal boasts its own palette, its own personality. Loose and lively, her compositions begin as ink outlines, silhouettes she then animates with oil paint.

In “Dreamers Don’t Sleep,” the owls watch over the scene, and one looks directly at the viewer, the only animal to engage the audience with its gaze, a symbolic stand-in for Ringholz herself.

After spending the summer at The Lexington at Jackson Hole hotel, the painting will be sold by live auction after the Fall Arts Festival’s QuickDraw on September 15.

Like that magical evening in her studio, Ringholz has surprises in store for the Fall Arts Festival.

 

As the festival’s featured artist, Ringholz was given the premier September exhibition slot at Altamira Fine Art. In a stroke of serendipity, her Fall Arts show at Altamira is her 34th solo exhibit in her 34th birthday year. To make a triumvirate, she decided to create 34 paintings for Altamira, for the exhibition also entitled “Dreamers Don’t Sleep.”

Inspired by a conversation with a friend, she set out to create a three-dimensional installation of her paintings within the gallery, “a giant story, a revelation, an environment, an experience and a message.”

“It’s taking who I am and making it into an installation,” she said. “You will literally walk through Ringholz’s world.”

Ringholz recognizes that Fall Arts Festival is already a magical time of year, the beauty outside heightened by the buzz of artists and art appreciators. She wants to add thrill and thankfulness to the splendor, through “Dreamers Don’t Sleep,” through her Altamira exhibition and installation and through the piece de resistance, “Something Wild This Way Comes.”

Striving to immerse people in a world of beauty and intrigue and to give back to the town that has nurtured her, Ringholz decided to host a party to end all parties on September 15—the final Saturday of Fall Arts. An all-out extravaganza for the senses, all in support of the wildness she loves in Jackson. “Something Wild This Way Comes” will be her largest art endeavor yet, a celebration of art in all forms and of all art lovers, whether they buy art or not.

“Art is about surprise and creativity and excitement,” Ringholz said, though too often, it seems art is relegated to planned, prescribed venues. So why not make an event that epitomizes that on a grand scale?

Think Cirque du Soleil meets Olympic opening ceremonies, Ring-holz said.

In the spring, she assembled a creative army dubbed The Dream Machine. “I brought together 30 dear friends who each work their art in different areas in Jackson Hole. Some are designers, air-brushers, barmaids, henna painters, costume makers, cooks, builders and dancers,” she said. “We are creating a night of so much art that our guests will be immersed in wonder. We are creating a gift from Jackson Hole to Jackson Hole.”

 

Nearly every week, The Dream Machine has convened to work on a different aspect of the party. Every member has given their time to a good cause; by design, proceeds of the wild event will preserve the wild of Jackson Hole and benefit four local nature groups: The Murie Center, Center of Wonder, Teton Raptor Center and Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

The dedication of The Dream Machine has stoked Ringholz’s imagination. After spending so much time alone as an artist, she has found inspiration in collaboration. “The creativity for this party exceeds the creativity in my work,” she said.

Like the nocturnal chorus that foreshadowed her Fall Arts Festival anointment, the discoveries Ringholz has made since signal more surprises in store come September. And yet, amid the whirl of her creativity, she has stayed true to her core dream as an artist. “I simply want to make great art, use my gift for good, and encourage others to do the same.”

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