By Mira Brody EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BIG SKY — Hooey Wilks just might be only person on the ski hill with her pockets full of antique toys. When she’s not flying down a mountain somewhere in the Northwest, you can find her flat on her stomach, skis still on foot and with a camera pointed at the tiny, ski-clad human figurines as they partake in an adventure of their own, most recently on our home mountain in Big Sky.
They’re small, standing just under two inches, and date back to the 1930s and 40s. The collection, which has grown to nearly 100, were gifts to her husband purchased from local antique shops. The inspiration of photographing them began on a whim when, having just shoveled her driveway back in her home in Conn., she took the toys outside with her and propped them along a rock wall. Realizing the little skiers were worthy of a more spectacular landscape, she took them along on her next ski trip out West.
“Last year I took a couple of them with me to Utah in my pocket when I skied, and there was something about that bluebird sky with the mountains in the back,” said Wilks. “So I started packing them up in my suitcase and bringing them out West.”
Wilks is living the life many of us dream of—after retiring from her corporate job and finding herself an empty nester, she and her husband, armed with a passion for skiing and years of collected frequent flyer miles, began prioritizing ski-centric travel, hitting destinations such as Alta, Jackson Hole and, of course, Big Sky. Her newfound photography project is a marriage of her creativity, whimsy, passion for the slopes and entrepreneurial skills.
While the journey began decades ago, when purchased a camera in high school with her first paycheck and began taking photography courses in college, the photog only truly launched her commercial Hooey Mountain series last August. Good call, too: for Wilks, finding more excuses to ski and spend time in the mountains was a dream come true.
“It’s challenging because you’re doing this on the mountain and in order to get the shot, you’re laying down on your stomach, often with your skis on,” she said. “It’s complicated and it’s freezing and it’s windy. It’s not as easy as being in a studio taking pictures of models where it’s warm, but it is more fun.”
All of Wilks’ photographs are taken on location with real snow, never photoshopped, marrying the joy of skiing and nostalgia while also showcasing the beauty of a day in the mountains.
Although the figurines are often backdropped by a well-known scape, Wilks is purposeful in maintaining its anonymity in hopes that viewers focus less on their tie to the location, and more on the theme of adventure.
Wilks hopes to expand her project to other sports—possibly mountain climbers and bikers—still with an alpine bent.
Meanwhile, Wilks will continue to seek out new mountains to ski with her collection of mini skiers in hand as they adventure together along Hooey Mountain.
Want—need—to see more of her work? Browse Hooey Mountain Photography on her Instagram @hooeymountain, hooeymountain.com, or locally at Melanie Turner Home and Erika & Company Interior Design in Big Sky Town Center.