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Artist Residency Uses Rich Landscapes To Help Inspire Artists

Catherine Wheeler
The Ucross Foundation has an artist residency on a 20,000 acre working cattle ranch. Artists and writers from across the country stay at Ucross to work on their art.

About 30 miles southeast of Sheridan, the Ucross Foundation sits on a 20,000-acre working cattle ranch. But that's not what it's known for.

The ranch is home to the Ucross Foundation Residency Program. Foundation president and executive director Sharon Dynak said it's a place for writers and artists to focus on their work. 

"It's definitely an oasis and a retreat. It's a very powerful experience of nature and very concentrated creativity," she said.

There are similar residencies across the country-including 2 more in Wyoming. But what makes Ucross stand out to artists is the landscape: the ridgeline, creeks and thousands of trees.

"It has a vastness that people experience immediately. It's almost like a shock to the system because they're coming from the country's and the world's largest urban areas. And many have not been to Wyoming or a place like this," Dynak said.

Teresa Booth Brown, a visual artist, educator, and former Ucross resident, said the scenery is part of what drew her to the program.

"The landscape features in people's reaction and reason for coming here. And certainly, that was the case for me," Booth Brown said.

A residency at Ucross means artists have the time and space to create. Ucross president Dynak said that's how great work gets made.

"What's happening is the writers and the artists are creating work that is then going to go out into the world. I tell people you can walk into a bookstore, a library, whatever-those books are there because people took the time," she said.

Credit Catherine Wheeler
The Ucross Foundation is located on the ranch. Several buildings on the property are historical and renovated.

The time spent out at Ucross takes artists away from their everyday routines.

"A residency program is a disruption in the best sense of the word," said program director Tracey Kikut.

"Coming out here disrupts their regular routine. And when you have a disruption, frequently things get jostled around. And new ideas come to you, new ways of looking and new ways of thinking, really," she added.

Residents of Ucross have gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards, MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grants", National Book Awards and other major prizes.

Elizabeth Gilbert worked on Eat, Pray, Love in one of the Ucross studios. Annie Proulx author of The Shipping News and the short story "Brokeback Mountain" was also a resident.

Kikut said something is clearly working.

"It definitely works. People keep applying, keep coming back. They want to be here," she said.

The Ucross Foundation was established in 1981 and started accepting artists two years later. It was founded by Raymond Plank, the founder and chairman of the oil and gas company Apache Corporation. Plank passed away in November 2018, which means Ucross will continue on without its visionary of nearly 38 years.

Plank had stepped down from the board a few years prior to his death. Since then, the board has changed, making room for new faces.

"It's been a really invigorating time with great satisfaction that people coming forward that believe in the organization and want to keep it going as long as possible," Dynak said.

Dynak said while the organization deeply misses its leader, they are continuing to honor his vision for not only the residency program but also the ranch and the property's conservation efforts.

That's something the artists want, too. Former resident Teresa Booth Brown said Ucross has remained an inspiration to her long after her time on the ranch.

"All of the work I have done in the last 10 years has some root to work I have either started here, or thought about here, or made here. It has allowed me to go to some new places I never expected," Booth Brown said.

Booth Brown's work is just one example of the ways Ucross and its landscape has continued to inspire the artists that visit.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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