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The University of Wyoming establishes a new center and program offerings for the arts and humanities

Neltje Center studio painting
Mark Ritchie
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Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts
University of Wyoming student Arthur Canaday, of Bakersfield, Calif., works on a creative project seated before a large painting by Neltje at her Sheridan County studio. Canaday was one of dozens of UW students and faculty members who took part in residencies this fall as part of the new Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts.

The University of Wyoming has established five residencies for UW students and faculty members this fall semester at a new center named for a famed Wyoming artist and university benefactor. The Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts provides opportunities to advance the state’s creative economy as well as hosting workshops and other educational opportunities statewide in addition to residency programs.

“The Neltje Center is part of a gift that the artist from Sheridan [County] gifted to the university upon her passing, [when] she passed away in 2021,” said Scott Turpen, interim dean for the College of Arts & Sciences at UW. “The gift has not been been received yet by the university at this point because the estate doesn't close for a little over a year is what we're is what we're estimating, but we're working closely with the family and they're allowing us to use the facilities there in Sheridan [County], there's two locations there in Sheridan [County] that are that are right next, right adjacent to each other.”

Neltje, whose full name was Neltje Doubleday Kings, was born in New York City in 1934 and grew up on Oyster Bay, Long Island. She moved with her children to Banner, Wyoming in Sheridan County in the mid-1960s. She later purchased the Sheridan Inn, which was then in a state of disrepair, refurbishing and operating it for 18 years. She also served on the Wyoming Arts Council from 1985-88 and was awarded the Governor’s Art Award in 2005, being recognized as one of the state’s preeminent artists. She died in Banner in 2021 at the age of 86.

Jentel Arts, an artist’s residency program that she established in 2001, is one of the locations where UW students and faculty have gone over the years. Since its inception, it’s awarded fellowships to 835 visual artists and 418 writers from Wyoming and across the country.

“We've been doing many artist residencies [stays] for our students and for our faculty to travel to Sheridan [County] to stay in Neltje’s home where they engage in literally thousands of pieces of art,” Turpen said. “They do creative projects with their faculty, with their professors, whether it's visual artists projects, or whether it's creative writing projects, staying in the home. It's been extraordinarily valuable through the years and we've really ramped that up in the fall of 2022.”

UW has also collaborated with students and faculty at Sheridan College and those participating in artist residencies to further build relationships among the arts community and strengthen the creative industries in the state.

“We had six residencies in Sheridan [County this semester], and dozens of faculty and students from UW travel to Sheridan to engage in these mini residencies,” he said. “They've also collaborated with folks at Sheridan College with students and faculty at Sheridan College, as well as the Jentel residents.”

Neltje Center students
Mark Ritchie
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Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts
University of Wyoming students who participated in a Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts residency this fall include, from left: Jesse Taylor, of Laramie; Liz Baldwin, of Cody; Carmen Nottage, of Laramie; Ki Radcliffe, of Bentonville, Ark.; Angela-Luna Schweisberger, of Rawlins; and Arthur Canaday, of Bakersfield, Calif.

The creation of the Neltje Center was about a decade in the making when Neltje made a commitment to UW to donate her artwork and home for their use. Working with her family has allowed for use of these properties and access to her artwork even with her estate not being settled yet. The UW Board of Trustees also allocated $1 million to the Neltje Center.

“The Neltje Center is not a single location, although there will be property in Sheridan County,” Turpen said. “There could be Neltje Center programming in Laramie, there could be Neltje Center programming across the state of Wyoming, so it's really, it could be virtual as well, we could have Neltje center programming that's virtual and available to people all over the country. So, it's a broad project and one that we're really excited about.”

There are several more residencies planned for the spring and summer semesters. About 50 students participated in Neltje Center-sponsored events last semester and a similar number are in the works for the spring.

“We've got what we're calling the Neltje Programming Committee where faculty can make proposals to this programming committee to have these mini residencies for their students and students,” he said. “Student groups [range in size from] anywhere I think, between five and 12. Students with a faculty mentor who are traveling to Sheridan [County], and we've been doing six [residencies] last semester. I think we've got another five planned for the springtime. So that's about what we're doing now.”

Neltje Center students
Lynn Reeves
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Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts
University of Wyoming students and faculty who participated in a Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts residency this fall include, from left: Fabian Negrete, of Jackson; Hannah Hughes, of Laramie; Kristen Cheser, of Casper; Leah Hardy, professor of art in metalsmithing; Kait Arndt; visiting assistant professor of ceramics; Cooper Jackson, of Laramie; and Billi London-Gray, visiting assistant professor of art foundations.

As part of her gift to UW, Neltje donated over 1,000 pieces of artwork that she had completed herself or had collected throughout the years. There are plans to showcase some of this artwork in Laramie this summer and at her former home in Sheridan County, which will allow the public access to her collection.

“Sheridan is a real hub for the arts and creativity and it's a really interesting opportunity,” Turpen said. The facilities are located in Sheridan [County] because I think there's a lot of really great opportunities there.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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