Back in ’91, during a visit to Jackson, there happened to be an art fair in the Square, that famous square of antler arches on the corners. I took a fancy to a watercolor painting, a view through desert ruins, and enjoyed a brief chat with the artist, one Russell Steel. He had ventured into his career somewhat late in life, as had a friend of my parents who, upon retirement, became a well-known sculptor, and I relished the chat with Mr. Steel as much as I appreciated his painting. Needless to say, my husband and I bought the painting and took it home to Buckinghamshire, England, where we lived at the time. It was professionally framed and hung in our conservatory for several years until husband and I went our separate ways, I eventually moved to London, and the painting ended up at my home in East Hampton. In East Hampton, it hung in what I tend to call the den or television room. It seemed somewhat out of place there amongst paintings of New York and a map of East Hampton—poor watercolor!
Roll on seventeen more years and I now own this small place in Jackson, and set out to get here by car from East Hampton with my daughter, the framed watercolor in the back. Tonight Russell Steel’s watercolor is back in Jackson, hung above my bed.
Sadly, Mr. Steel, of Durango, CO, passed away in 2010, aged 92. He was listed in “Who’s Who in American Art.’
The view outside our door
Let me get this straight right away: I realize Jackson is not representative of Wyoming. Back in the ‘80s, when I first visited the town, it was a relaxed sort of place that just happened to have the benefit of being very close to some spectacular scenery, which included two national parks. There were no fancy hotels such as The Amangani and The Four Seasons, no log McMansions, and no celebrities (though Harrison Ford might have cashed his Star Wars checks by then and possibly come here). The shops were still pretty much low-key, the restaurants fairly basic, and there was an air that keeping its western identity was what Jackson wanted to do. Well, times have changed and Jackson is not Pinedale.
But what is the western identity here? What is Wyoming? For a while, every time I wrote friends that I was going to Wyoming, Google would strategically place in my side borders advertisements for land or home sales in Wyoming. Most of these were ranches being broken up into subdivisions. Now I hear stories of big corporations and wealthy businessmen buying up ranches to run as playgrounds, polo ponies replacing cutting horses, and the old family ranches being driven out land rich, cash poor when it comes to inheritance tax.
Jackson, with its fancy art galleries and over-priced alligator boots, has, I guess, found a way to survive. Yet few of the people I meet are, like myself, from around here. When my daughter flew in one year from Bogota, Colombia, sixteen hours and three flights, the taxi driver who collected her late at night was from…Colombia. It’s a changing world and Jackson—and Wyoming—is adapting the best way it can. And we’re still enjoying the scenery.
Leaving Rock Springs was something akin to leaving a well-loved history book behind when visiting a friend: you want to share it and return to discuss at a later date but you hate leaving that beloved tome. Rock Springs had so much to offer but our time was limited; we managed a fleeting glimpse of Flaming Gorge, its red sandstone crags blending with the green of the valley as if Christmas was on its way.
Scooting up the road towards our turn-around destination, Jackson, we passed so much I’d like to return to see: the Wild Horse grazing grounds, the old historic district, the sand dunes, even the Reliance Tipple, and then the old stage coach route and all the various trails cutting through our road. But we knew we were headed to our beloved Jackson hideaway and a rest of eight days before turning around and heading east via a different route. A kind of elation hit us, silliness and singing and thinking of games we couldn’t possibly play while driving.
As the skies opened for their regular mountain afternoon summer downpour, I felt cleansed and happy, even with the mammoth unloading and unpacking before us. Not really home, but home at last.