Tucked into a narrow arroyo about 15 miles southwest of Cody surrounded by aspen trees and steep canyon walls lies Big Hat Ranch, a picturesque setting that attracts artists of all mediums.
Joseph Brickey has led a group of art students on a retreat at the Big Hat for the last two years.
“You can look any direction, and you see the cliffs have different character and shape,” said Joseph Brickey, who has led a group of art students on a retreat at the Big Hat the last two years. “And there’s just an incredible variety – the trees and the landscape, the water, being able to study different versions of nature and different variations that you find in nature.”
Brickey’s students, most of whom attend the Bose Arts Academy in Salt Lake City, are participating in the Thomas Moran Fellowship, an annual excursion for art students studying classical style art fundamentals.
“It’s named the Thomas Moran Fellowship because Thomas Moran was one of the early American landscape artists that really set the stage for the American tradition of landscape painting,” Brickey told Cowboy State Daily. “So one of the things we do as an academy is we have an annual excursion like this where we paint outdoors, what’s called ‘plein air’ painting. And that’s only one aspect of the curriculum.”
For the young artists, the Wyoming backdrop is inspirational and has become something they look forward to.
“We’ve been doing this Thomas Moran fellowship trip every year since the school started,” said graduate student Cassidy Varney. “I’ve been on all of them except one, and it’s my favorite thing that we do, completely.”
A group of 20 students spent last week taking advantage of the late October weather and varied landscape at the Big Hat Ranch, which has welcomed many artists over the years.
Big Hat Ranch Has Big History
For decades, the Big Hat Ranch has catered to artists and other celebrities, ranch managers Kurt and Donna Blain told Cowboy State Daily.
“A lot of great artists have been here,” said Kurt, pointing out that John Wayne was a guest at the Big Hat when he was in Cody as the grand marshal of the Stampede Parade in 1976.
The ranch has always been a guest ranch, said Blain, and has a historical connection to artists. The cabins were built by the father of local Western artist M.C. Poulson when the Poulson family owned the property.
Hal Tate, who built a profitable shipping business in Utah, bought the property in 1998, and with his wife Naoma oversaw the landscaping and renovation of the property. Although Hal passed away several years ago, Naoma has continued to improve the ranch and offer it as a haven to artists of all mediums.
Bose Arts Academy Retreat
Brickey said his students spend most of their daylight hours outside painting in the “plein air,” or open-air setting, and they have many opportunities throughout the day to capture different views of the same landscape.
“Throughout the day, it’s sort of a scramble to take advantage of these little passing, ephemeral effects that happen so quickly, and then they’re gone,” he said. “So you have to learn to paint quickly.”
The Bose Arts Academy is a classical school of sculpture, painting and architecture. The 20 students attending the retreat at the Big Hat use a variety of mediums from oils to watercolors and acrylics to sculpting and sketching.
Varney said the latest group focused on the classical fundamentals of art.
“When you’re a musician, let’s say you want to be a rock star, you still need to learn notes and rhythms and the simple basics,” she explained. “So classicism is (among) those fundamentals.”
In addition to creating and studying art, Brickey said students can visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and take in the world-class Western art displayed there, as well as get a tour of Tate’s private collection.
“Naoma’s artwork is spectacular,” Blain said. “It’s a museum in itself.”
Philanthropist Is Friend to Artists
The Bose Arts Academy has been in operating for about nine years, said Brickey, and Naoma Tate has been a generous patron and ally since its beginning.
“She has helped sponsor a lot of things that we’ve done, and this is one of them,” he said. “She just blesses art, the art movement and the art tradition as well in so many other ways.”
Along with helping inspire and develop young artists, the classes also expose them to Western art and the Wyoming scene.
“Hal and Naoma always supported beginning artists, trying to help them get started,” said Donna Blain. “And she helps the Buffalo Bill Museum.”
Tate said that long before they bought the ranch in 1999, she and her husband supported the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale in Cody.
“We bought things at the art auction from probably 1984 on, and then helping to choose the artists from about 2006, Tate said, adding that the Cody community attracts Western artists.
“There are Western artists that come from all over the West and all over the United States,” she said. “And then artists that live in Cody, or in the area around here, just because it’s kind of an artists’ capital.”
Tate has also been instrumental in organizing the nonprofit agency By Western Hands, a local cooperative of artisans who not only display their work, but also create and educate at the downtown Cody location.
“They’re trying to keep the idea of hands-on, disciplined energy that creates beautiful things,” said Tate. “It takes a lot of work and discipline and a lot of imagination – and hopefully you get beautiful things when you use all those things, and not chaos, which some people seem to be calling art these days.”
Wyoming A Treasure for Artists
Brickey said this weeklong retreat has focused on the unique characteristics of the northwest Wyoming landscape.
“It has this rugged, expansive kind of character to it,” said Brickey. “And so this valley sort of captures that in so many ways.”
Varney explained, though, that the students aren’t there to simply capture a perfect likeness of the landscape.
“We hope to capture the spirit or the essence of it,” she said, “to kind of transcend you to another plane.”