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‘Sightings’ Looks to Stars for Signs of Life
Thursday, September 14, 2023


Sun Valley sits right in the middle of the 1,416-square-mile Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve—America’s first dark sky reserve.

But it wasn’t the stars above that led Sun Valley Museum of Art Curator Courtney Gilbert to curate the museum’s newest exhibition “Sightings.”

Instead, it was Idaho’s reputation as the No. 1 state per capita for UFO sightings—a phenomenon that dates back at least to a few decades ago when a group out Triumph prepared for the coming of UFOs and valley residents climbed to Pioneer Cabin to watch them arrive.

More recently, Sun Valley Music Festival performed “Contact,” the piece exploring making contact in the universe that won a Grammy for Kevin Puts and Sun Valley’s favorite stringed trio Time For Three.

This exhibition asks why we look to the night skies for signs of life and how we experience phenomena we can’t explain.

“Stories about UFOs have been turning up recently in lots of unexpected places, from the pages of the New York Times to NASA and the halls of Congress,” said Gilbert. “Fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life seems to be at a high across the country, and, living adjacent to a Dark Sky Reserve, it felt like the right time and place to explore the current interest in the topic.

“This exhibition doesn’t speculate on whether the objects or lights viewers report seeing in the sky are in fact otherworldly in origin, but brings together a group of artists whose work, often with humor, invites us to consider what we might be seeking when we look to the stars for signs of life,” she added. 

The group exhibition, which garnered press in the New York Times this week, features more than 20 artworks, as well as commissioned works, in an exhibition that opens today and runs through Dec. 2. Some of the pieces explore a renewed relationship to the stars and night sky formed during the pandemic.

  • Chicago artist Deb Sokolow is known for research-driven drawings that combine images and diagrams speculating on such subjects as intelligence organizations. Her project commissioned by The Museum was inspired by legends surrounding the presence of extraterrestrial phenomena and preparations for the arrival of spacecraft in the valley.
  • Seattle-based painter Cable Griffith made a series of paintings inspired by eyewitness drawings and written accounts of UFO sightings in 2015. The Museum commissioned Griffith to make a new set of “Sightings” paintings for this exhibit framed through windows in a nod to the way people searched for connection while homebound at the height of the pandemic.
  • Karl Knight is known for paintings and tapestries that often include spacecraft and alien beings.
  • Seattle-based Robyn O’Neil makes detailed graphite drawings, some of which feature incongruous objects floating in the sky hovering above the earth.
  • Ionel Talpazan’s childhood encounter with a UFO led him to create works on paper depicting hypothetical interplanetary spacecraft annotated with text speculating on their mechanics.
  • Esther Pearl Watson’s semi-autobiographical paintings depict moments from her childhood in Texas where her father devoted himself to building a working flying saucer in hopes that NASA would use it to establish human contact with life from other planets.
  • Timothy Wyllie is an architect who believed in the power of telepathy and the presence of extraterrestrial beings, making detailed colored pencil drawings of real and imaginary landscapes visited by spacecraft, aliens and angels.


  • THURSDAY, Sept. 14, 5 p.m. ARTIST TALK: Conversation with Artists Deb Sokolow and Cable Griffith

    The artists will discuss their processes and mutual interest in the human fascination with night skies and the extraterrestrial. The Museum, Ketchum. FREE, pre-registration encouraged.

  • THURSDAY, Sept. 14, 6-7:30 p.m.


  • FRIDAY, SEPT. 15, 4:30-10:30 p.m. and SATURDAY, SEPT. 16, noon-3 p.m.

    WORKSHOP: Astrophotography 101 with Nate Liles. SVMoA Hailey Classroom & Craters of the Moon National Monument, $180 members/ $200 nonmembers.

  • THURSDAYS, SEPT. 21, OCT. 19, NOV. 16. 5:30 p.m.

    EVENING EXHIBITION TOURS at the Sun Valley Museum of Art in Ketchum.  Free.

  • TBA

    LECTURE: Filmmaker Ricki Stern Discusses the Making of UFOs: Investigating the Unknown. Date and venue to be announced. $15 members/ $25 nonmembers/ $7 students.

  • THURSDAY, OCT. 26, 6-8 p.m.

WORKSHOP: NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: Stories of the Supernatural. The Museum in Ketchum. Free; suggested donation $10. Join SVMoA for an evening of artmaking where you are the artist and storyteller, drawing inspiration from the current exhibition “Sightings.”

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