In this blog, ICL’s 2018 artist in residence, watercolor painter Jessica L. Bryant, reflects on her experiences over the year. We’re honored to have had her amazing paintings featured in our work this year, and appreciate that she devoted her residency to celebrating our Idaho wild and scenic rivers during the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Jessica’s paintings give a near-photographic impression yet are distinctly skillful, luminous watercolors representing her take on a landscape.
We thank her for all she’s accomplished for the ICL residency this year – creating an Idaho Rivers series of paintings, including two large paintings, making presentations, contributing images to ICL’s publications and more – despite health challenges that largely sidelined her for five months.
It is a pleasure to offer you a slideshow of her Idaho Rivers series, the culmination of her year’s work. If you are in Sandpoint, go see her full year-end exhibit which runs through Dec. 30. Check out her work at www.jessicabryant.com. Thank you for everything, Jessica! The ICL artist in residence program explores the nexus between art and nature. – MBW
As I think about 2018, I’m filled with quite a mix of feelings. After eight residences for the National Park Service that took me from above the arctic circle in Alaska to the deserts of southern California, I was ecstatic to be given the ICL residency and the excuse it offers to explore Idaho in depth. It’s always easier to explore when you’re traveling, away from the responsibilities and schedules of home. I’ve been privileged to have some remarkable residency experiences, from bouncing across the waves of the arctic ocean in an inflatable raft with a tiny outboard motor while tagging along with fish researchers, to bouncing across the prairie in a string of pickup trucks with park rangers to round up a herd of 1,400 bison.
The Year Begins
I spent the early months of this year hungry to experience Idaho’s remote rivers with wild and scenic designation in this, the 50th year of that legislation. Alas, winter weather kept me in the studio, busy painting rivers in the Owyhees where I was artist in residence two years ago – places I had already visited – to get a jump start on the large body of work I had planned.
I was obligated to spend April in Joshua Tree National Park for a residency I had previously committed to. The park was magnificent as usual, and I hiked close to 100 miles, including a 13-mile solo day hike just before heading for home.
Visiting the Owyhees
On the long drive home to Coeur d’Alene, I spent a couple days in Boise. A ranger friend at the BLM gave me directions to the Bruneau River, Big Jacks Creek, and Wickahoney Creek. It was a glorious day trip, beautiful weather, rough roads, no one in sight. The hike down Parker Trail to Big Jacks Creek was particularly spectacular. Incredible rock formations, lush greens of spring, the gurgling of the creek, and billowing clouds rolling across the sky above the canyon. I love solo days spent exploring, and this day brought the tally of Idaho wild and scenic rivers I’ve visited to something around 8 of the 22 total.
I left, anxious to get home and plan out an ambitious travel and painting schedule. The rest of the 22 rivers dangled ahead of me – including a June trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon and some fall days on the rivers of the Owyhees. But fate had a different idea.
Midway through my first day home, May 1, the muscle tightness I was experiencing in one leg turned into excruciating pain and an inability to walk. This led to five months of being unable to stand or walk, numerous doctor visits, Xrays, an MRI, injections, an escalating array of ineffective opiods, and then back surgery. It was a devastating spring, summer, and fall. I missed ICL’s conference in May, the Middle Fork trip, the Owyhee visit, and my plans to get to the Selway, Lochsa, upper St. Joe, Clearwater and all the other wild and scenic rivers.
Luckily I was able to sit and paint, in small doses, by mid-summer, which brought back a certain level of sanity. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite happy with the work I completed for the ICL this year – a dozen new works, including two very large paintings, is an accomplishment. But I have a strong drive and had assumed everything would come together as usual so I could produce a body of work showing the majesty of all the wild and scenic rivers of Idaho, complemented by comprehensive interpretive displays of each river highlighting its unique nature, history and challenges. As the year finishes and I look back on its extreme challenges and disappointments, I realize that my planned final product for the year would have necessitated editing the experiences of Idaho into something with less depth in order to achieve breadth.
The healing and rehabilitation process has been remarkably tedious, but I’m in good hands and if the specialists are optimistic, I should be too. And so, I,ve chosen to put residencies on hold and devote myself to Idaho for the foreseeable future. Sure, I’ll still paint other places I know and love, but Idaho gets my focus, and I can’t wait.
If you have a favorite remarkable place in Idaho that you think I should visit and paint, I would be happy to hear from you. Feel free to email me via my website, www.jessicabryant.com. If you’d like to keep up with my future work, you can subscribe to my newsletter online as well.
I’m eternally grateful to the ICL for the unique opportunities they provide with their artist in residence program. By nature, artists have a different way of seeing and appreciating the world and its inhabitants. Amidst the challenges of our current climate – environmental, social and political – we need creativity, problem solving and understanding. Embracing the arts, enabling artists to do what they do and connect with the public, is forward-thinking and remarkably relevant.
A sincere thank you to the ICL, its staff and its members. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season.
– Jessica L. Bryant