By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BOZEMAN – Lyrical words of storytellers and poignant details from scientists are joined by the sometimes whimsical, sometimes bold, sometimes ever-gentle strokes of artists and creatives in a soon-to-be published book titled “The Artists Field Guide to Greater Yellowstone.”
The collection is a collaborative display dedicated to appreciating our world and is a naturalist’s guide to Yellowstone’s wildlife. Fifty of the region’s most distinguished writers and artists have collaborated to create this field guide, which is pending publication by Trinity University Press.
From the Indian paintbrush and Yellowstone cutthroat trout, to thermophilic bacteria, greater sage-grouse and the grizzly bear, 30 plants and animals of Greater Yellowstone are featured in “The Artists Field Guide.”
The book was borne out of a wider movement called the Home to Roam Collective, founded by Bozeman resident Katie Christiansen. Christiansen says her goal is to promote conservation through art. “I’m hoping to use art to bring people together around the values of nature,” she said.
After moving to Bozeman in 2010, Christiansen was startled by the area’s fast-paced growth. “It’s growing so fast, we don’t have time to ask if its good or bad,” she said. With this in mind, Christiansen set out to find like-minded individuals willing to share their own perspectives on living within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. “It turns out there are lots of other people on the same page,” Christiansen said.
Artist Jennifer Lowe-Anker of Bozeman said she was honored to contribute to “The Artists Field Guide.”
“Katie impressed me with her knowledge and compassion for the wild places of Greater Yellowstone and I was instantly smitten with her idea of combining artists and writers who champion our precious remaining wild,” Lowe-Anker said. “The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem harbors a wealth of diversity that is now a rare thing in our lower 48 as humanity is ever expanding its footprint and climate change is an ever growing and imminent threat to many species.”
Lowe-Anker’s piece will appear in the front section of the nature guide, and depicts a peaceable kingdom, with a variety of species from the Greater Yellowstone gathered together.
“If we cannot take notice of the incredible vital balance of life and care for it more deeply and carefully, we stand to be the demise of our own hand,” she said. “In my painting, those gathered are a testament to the miracle of diverse life and the shared challenges they face to survive. They pose the question: Can we gather together to save life as we know it on our precious planet earth? Another miracle is in order.”
Kalon Baughan, an artist and self-taught naturalist and photographer, also hopes to inspire conservation with his work. Baughan produced an illustration of a wolverine that will appear in the field guide, having been captivated by the animal since he was a young man growing up in Michigan.
“In addition to my art, I strive to support wildlife conservation by applying my skill as a self-taught naturalist and photographer to the study of rare carnivores, using remotely triggered trail cameras,” he said. “To date, I’ve taken hundreds of thousands of photographs of a minimum of seven individual Montana wolverines.”
Often, field guides are objective, Christiansen said. But speaking about “The Artists Field Guide,” she explained that everyone has a different take on the ecosystem and the book tries to capture that by placing readers in the ecosystem as well. “Readers can see plants and animals through so many new lenses. What I hope is that people can see themselves as a part of this project.
“Just by planting two feet on the ground in Bozeman, you’re in this ecosystem,” she added.
Illustrating her point, Christiansen turned to several prints from the book, pointing out the whimsical nature of some pieces, set alongside others that are much more representational.
The text also supports the belief that experiencing the ecosystem is inherently subjective. Christiansen described some authors’ approach as practical and scientific, while others might be more lyrical.
For the mountain lion entry, as an example, Red Lodge author Gary Ferguson writes of two experiences meeting a lion on the trail. “Each time all I got was a glimpse—a small wink of tawny elegance floating across the trail,” Ferguson writes. “Since then I’ve come to think of them as figments, chimeras, less fur and muscle than whisper and dance.”
In some cases, Christiansen paired whimsy with practicality, partnering artists and writers together to focus on a single plant or animal. Speaking of the different approaches, she said, “They’re both real and genuine. They produce two different pieces, but both have reverence and respect.”
Beyond publishing the field guide, Christiansen hopes the Home to Roam Collective can provide platforms for discussion. As the book nears publication, Christiansen would like to display prints from the artwork in the guide at a variety of locations throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including within Yellowstone National Park.
“I’m not expecting this to change the world,” Christiansen said. “But maybe it can start a conversation.”
To learn more about “The Artists Field Guide to Greater Yellowstone,” visit artistsfieldguide.com.