Carol Guzman wields a paintbrush to protect public lands

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Bozeman artist Carol Guzman’s passion for the natural world rivals her devotion to painting. That’s because without protected lands and their resident plant and wildlife, Guzman would have to find other sources of inspiration for her artwork.

“It’s what feeds my art,” Guzman said. “When I go out, I want to paint what I’m seeing. It gives me a greater feeling of intimacy when I can watch how the animal interacts with and is affected by its environment.”

A diverse artist whose subject matter has included Western toys, South of the Border scenes, and Native American artifacts, shifting focus likely wouldn’t be difficult for Guzman, but for the past eight years she has been captivated by wildlife, especially birdlife.

Guzman’s “Nesting Sandhill” will be on display in a group exhibition that opens at Bozeman’s Old Main Gallery on Nov. 4. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the American Prairie Reserve. PHOTO COURTESY OF OLD MAIN GALLERY & FRAMING

Of the paintings in an exhibit opening at Bozeman’s Old Main Gallery and Framing on Nov. 4, “Nesting Sandhill” is one of her favorites. A depiction of the migratory bird on a nest in northeastern Montana’s American Prairie Preserve, “Nesting Sandhill” is a perfect example of Guzman’s process, which begins with curiosity and sustained observation.

“It was an experience to see her on the nest,” said Guzman, describing the rare visual treat. Typically, Guzman takes photographs for reference while creating the oil painting in her studio. For landscapes, Guzman often works in plein air.

“People don’t realize there are so many birds up on the prairie,” said Guzman, who will be donating some of the proceeds from her show to the American Prairie Reserve. “Some of them migrate very long distances. Shore birds come to the prairie to have their babies … robust birdlife is really an indication of a healthy ecosystem.”

While admittedly her current fixation, Guzman doesn’t want to pigeonhole herself as a wildlife artist, and continues to paint landscapes, still lifes and portraits.

“It’s all a matter of what I feel and what attracts my eye,” Guzman said. “That’s the beauty of being a fine artist, you can just pick and choose what you want to paint and hopefully people will respond to it.”

Guzman is a classically trained, realistic painter who earned a fine art degree in the mid-’70s from Parsons School of Design in New York City.

In 1990, following a divorce, Guzman left Manhattan with her paints and her dog and spent the next year touring the country and living out of her van.

“I was a gypsy and I loved it,” Guzman said.

While plein air painting alongside the scenic Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, she met fellow artist Clyde Aspevig, who was doing the same thing. The two have been together ever since.

Aspevig’s Montana roots eventually drew them back to the region, where they settled in rural Shields Valley north of Livingston for 16 years before relocating to Bozeman.

Guzman describes their life together as a continuous treasure hunt to find great art and new things to paint. In addition to a shared enjoyment of art, the outdoors and adventure, the couple started a website devoted to encouraging people to savor aspects of nature that are often overlooked. They came up with the name “Land Snorkel” while admiring the desert succulents during a hike in Sedona, Arizona.

“[Land Snorkel] is an idea my husband and I started years ago that encourages people to spend more time in nature—which we all need in this time of digital everything—wandering and wondering with no destination in mind,” Guzman said.

“The land itself, it just makes you feel more human, that you’re part of an ecosystem, and part of the world. It’s part of our existence; it’s where we come from,” she added.

For Guzman, encouraging adults and children to spend more time in nature is not solely about the personal benefits, but comes full circle to the need to protect the source of those gifts.

“If fewer and fewer people are spending time in nature, fewer people are appreciating it. So who is going to conserve it?” Guzman asked. “If you don’t have a link to the land you’re not going to have any desire to keep it.”

Locally, Guzman’s work will be on display at Old Main Gallery and Framing in Bozeman from Nov. 4 through December. She also shows her work by appointment. Visit carolguzman.com for more information.