Art & Artisans in Jackson
by Michele Corriel
In 2020, Jackson ranked at the top of a national list for arts-vibrant small communities in a study from SMU Data Arts. In addition to gathering data on individual artists, the methodology included evaluating government support and arts dollars. Jackson beat out Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Heber, Utah (in the greater Salt Lake City/Park City region), and Sun Valley, Idaho as the top Micropolitan area. Highlights of Jackson’s art scene include being host to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, and the 76,000-square-foot Center for the Arts, and the Grand Teton Music Festival.
In addition to a strong music and visual arts scene, the town hosts the internationally-recognized Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and ranks within the top 1% in government support and arts dollars. This season, WHJ is proud to present two artists who create a spectrum of work that suits diverse tastes. Boughton Walden and Kira Fercho are emerging visual artists who employ different mediums and subject matters but share a common love for the American West.
Modern Western Portraiture: A Fresh Perspective from Boughton Walden
Jackson, Wyoming-based visual artist Boughton Walden’s pieces depict her love of the West, its wildlife, and her command of materials and technique. Her work links freedom, space, and beauty to wood, acrylic, and epoxy resin. Walden’s exceptional translation from inspiration and idea to realization and execution is evidenced in her regimented process, which is purposefully detail-oriented and “mapped out to a T,” as she says. Her subjects range from a fox to a horse, a bear to bison, an elk to an eagle, and beyond her Western environs. She creates simple but complex portraiture, yet what makes her art distinct is the composition—the focus and balance she places on her subjects, subjects that are seared onto the forefront of the viewer’s mind once viewed. As a result, one feels the direct connection and spirit, elements that harmonize to impart a sense of the West that complements the modern Western aesthetic in art, architecture, and lifestyle.
Walden grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist and later knew she wanted to move out West. Post-college at the University of Alabama, the Charlotte, North Carolinian listened to friends who suggested she go to Wyoming—a place she had never visited. She said yes, and, 14 years later, has no regrets. After a few stints in hospitality, while pursuing art on the side, Walden decided to take her vision more seriously, and that’s when the community reciprocated with public projects, art fairs, and commissions. “I’m lucky to live in a community that appreciates local artists and wants to provide opportunities for them to thrive,” she says. Thrive she did, and continues to do, with a dedicated work ethic and a wonder-filled approach to her daily menu of outdoor activities and indoor brushstrokes.
Walden’s subjects are the stars, and the process of creating them is her own, but she readily admits that it involves a lot of trial and error. “All the best ideas come out of the process itself,” she explains. So how does she begin? She continues, “I start with a photograph, then digitally alter it (a skill I learned majoring in graphic design). This is where most of the inspiration happens. I remove the background, add horizon lines, experiment with new colors (recently a gold-leaf paint), and maybe flip the canvas until I have a digital rendering. And that’s all before I make a single brushstroke.” Walden doesn’t waste any materials. “Then I draw the image on a wooden canvas and recreate my rendering by hand with acrylic paint,” she adds. Walden understood that it was essential to distinguish her art from other modern Western artists and did so by pouring epoxy resin on the finished piece and layering it with a high-gloss finish. “I wanted to make it pop and give it almost a third dimension,” she says. The effect is an infusion of shimmering textural depth anchored by the materials’ strength (the wood) and vibrancy (the luscious acrylic palette), while simultaneously protecting the work’s integrity.
“All the best ideas come out of the process itself. I start with a photograph, then digitally alter it (a skill I learned majoring in graphic design). This is where most of the inspiration happens…I have a digital rendering. And that’s all before I make a single brushstroke.”
Most people who see the work for the first time are unaware that it is on a wood canvas. “I started using wood when I first moved to Jackson. I was broke, and it was cheap. However, when my style developed further, I stayed with the wood because of what it brought to the work itself; it’s sturdy and added Western character,” Walden says.
Solo subjects combined with clean lines and lush color present the wildlife empowered by their emotions. “I want to capture their feelings, whether they’re curious, funny, even dramatic; sometimes it’s whimsical and dreamy. I want the viewer to feel the beauty of the animal, not just see it,” she says. While Walden is happiest creating in her small studio in town, laying out her inspiration in photos, sketches, ideas, and notes, her environment, from spring’s verdant uprising to winter’s deep-pocketed silence, is her evolving landscape. And although she temporarily erases it, it allows the singular animal whose journey defines its place in the West to take the stage on her canvas. “I think it’s incredible that we cohabitate so closely with these creatures. Elk blocking the roadway, a moose in your driveway, a bear on a hiking path, a fox scurrying along the river, eagles swooping overhead. I am constantly thinking of new work just by taking a walk and observing my surroundings,” she adds.
The outcome of Walden’s work is a genuine devotion to her sense of place while utilizing her technique to highlight the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Her art is in homes and businesses, private collections, and public and nonprofit organizations. Many of her clients find her art in Local Restaurant and Bar on the Town Square (in Jackson) or Old Main Gallery (in Bozeman) and purchase it off the wall or via commissioned pieces. “Often, a client will curate a room around one of my pieces, or they will have a piece in mind that is ideal for one of their rooms,” says Walden. One such client commissioned an enormous 8’ x 4’ piece to live above his fireplace. “He was originally from Santa Cruz, California, where there is an annual migration of Monarch butterflies—so the butterflies represented that place and became the centerpiece of his home,” she shares.
What keeps me here is obvious. Endless outdoor activity, an incredible and generous community, and making a living doing what I love, all while surrounded by endless inspiration,”
Walden’s effervescence lingers in her pieces, which may account for her burgeoning career. It’s nearly impossible not to see and feel her reverence for her subjects. “What keeps me here is obvious. Endless outdoor activity, an incredible and generous community, and making a living doing what I love, all while surrounded by endless inspiration,” she says.
To see Walden’s work, visit Local Restaurant and Bar (Jackson, WY), Old Main Gallery (Bozeman, MT), or boughtonwalden.com.
Kira Fercho: Catching a waterfall in a tea cup
The rush of color. The pull of a landscape. The quiet calling of a summer sunset. Kira Fercho’s art shines from within. She has the joyful confidence of a painter who trusts her path. Whatever comes her way is the way she follows. She trusts that her artistic instincts will not lead her astray.
“I look at who comes into my life each day and enjoy it,” she says from her Billings studio. “I’m just so grateful that people let me into their lives.”
The most emotional and, oftentimes, most satisfying are the commissions that come through her door from all over the world. Intensely meaningful, full of energy, these range from portraits of loved ones now gone to paintings created to match color swatches.
“The experience is just as individualized as the clients,” Fercho says. “Some clients have photographs for me to work from and others are people I’d met five years before and will call me out of the blue. Some want me to design paintings for their whole house. Even pet portraits can be so emotional; they want their pets’ lives to be celebrated.”
About 80 percent of Fercho’s business is this kind of custom commission work. Whatever she paints, it is always an emotional process. Many of those clients end up having her do several pieces for them over the years. Due to the time and energy spent together, clients become friends.
“The experience is just as individualized as the clients. Some clients have photographs for me to work from and others are people I’d met five years before and will call me out of the blue.”
“It’s about relationship-building,” Fercho explains. “That might not make sense to someone who went to business school or art school, but it’s important to me. I grew up in rural Montana and I don’t have to be a millionaire to survive. I’d rather have a good life and massage these great relationships.”
Quite a few of her clients ask her to paint scenes they’ve dreamed about. For example, one client went on a trip and came home deeply affected by a vivid dream that she wanted Fercho to paint.
“She described the dream-image as a mother earth figure,” Fercho says. “She related it as feminine, in her 60s, maternal, and knowing, with worldly advice to impart. It was important that she didn’t feel scary. Feminine but not sexualized. It wasn’t meant to be religious or mythological.”
Fercho worked on the painting for six months. It turned out to be an abstract composition that brought out the exact feeling the client wanted. “It was so cool when I presented the painting to her; I portrayed it exactly as she had dreamt it,” she shares.
Fercho’s style leans toward abstraction, while supplying the viewer an anchor to hold onto. Her paintings suggest themes but don’t complete every aspect of the composition. This way she leaves room for the viewer to participate in the work, to dialogue with it, and allow for it evolve.
“I really feel that’s one of the strongest points of my work. I give people just enough detail to figure out what’s going on and give them the ability to connect with the piece,” she says. “The relationship people have with the work will change, in the same way a piece changes inside a house with the varying light. But it should be an experience, and it’s kind of a living thing.”
“In fact, I feel like painting is a bit like trying to catch a waterfall in a tea cup. I have so many ideas and only one lifetime of painting to share them.”
People have compared Fercho to Charlie Russell, or maybe more of a marriage of Russell’s color with Ted Waddell’s feel for texture. Either way, it’s all about a subtle color shift. It’s easy to make a mountain look beautiful. But to make an open prairie look interesting – that’s something.
For example, Fercho’s most recent painting Night Ride is all about mood and the feeling of a man at peace with his animals. Her thick impasto style reflects the eastern Montana prairie, complicated and serene, with a sky turning to dusk. Her love of color explodes in the foreground, with wildflower hues flicked against the idea of animals grazing, and a solitary man astride his horse, shoulders at ease, head bowed in contemplation.
“The setting for this piece is in the Billings area, where I grew up,” Fercho says. Her familiarity with the landscape comes across as memories. “I love the narrative element in my paintings, because they oftentimes tell stories about very interesting people.”
Fercho cannot imagine getting painter’s block. She finds inspiration everywhere. Inspiration comes from color and texture, from what the eye focuses on and what it leaves out, and of course, the emotions and energy those things bring with them.
“In fact, I feel like painting is a bit like trying to catch a waterfall in a tea cup,” she says. “I have so many ideas and only one lifetime of painting to share them.”