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Preserving the Preserves in Paint
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Poo Wright-Pulliam would love to do some more artist-in-residence projects--even as far away as Dry Tortugas National Park.
   
Sunday, November 7, 2021
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK AND WENDEE MONSON

Poo Wright-Pulliam trudged past European barberry shrubs bearing red berries that resembled Hot Tamale candies and found herself under a canopy of yellow cottonwood trees.

Noting a sculpture of an owl sitting on a nearby fence, she studied it from a variety of angles, finally crossing the creek and turning around so she had a view of the owl framed by golden leaves with mountains in the distance.

 
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You can attend the Open House on Thursday to see how the painting of this site turned out.
 

Then she went to work painting a watercolor that will offer a snapshot in time of Colorado Gulch.

Wright-Pulliam has spent the past few months as artist-in-residence for the Wood River Land Trust, painting scenes in many of the preserves the Land Trust has protected in the Wood River Valley. And she will show her works from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, during an Open House at the Wood River Land Trust, 119 E. Bullion St. in Hailey.

Liz Pedersen and Courtney Jelaco, who work with the Land Trust, say they love the idea.

“It’s another way of helping people appreciate what we have here,” said Pedersen. “It helps people look at nature and notice the details.

 
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Poo Wright-Pulliam dips an Aquabord in a creek running through Colorado Gulch.
 

Courtney Jelaco agreed: “Often we look at a place and see the greenery. But sketches and artwork like Poo’s helps us realize it’s full of details—different kinds of ducks, that sort of thing. It helps us look at nature with new eyes.”

This is the third artist-in-residence Wright-Pulliam has served. Her first was at Craters of the Moon National Monument, where she created 139 portraits of the twisted limber pine and the wildflowers and wildlife that inhabit the lavascape.

Her second was under the granite spires of City of Rocks—a residency that she initiated. The Hailey artist also suggested the artist-in-resident project to the Wood River Land Trust.

“Craters and City of Rocks were fun because I camped out—three weeks at Craters and six at City of the Rocks,” she said. “It was fun to ‘live’ on the property. But Craters was so hot that every 15 minutes I had to run to the bathroom and stick my head under the sink and soak my shirt.

 
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Poo Wright-Pulliam spends 15 minutes reminiscing about the history of the Sun Valley area with Edith Pendl.
 

“Being here at home was nice during COVID because I could go home and not worry. And I could wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, what a beautiful day. I think I’ll go paint.’ ”

Before she ever dipped a paintbrush in watercolors, Wright-Pulliam wandered through the preserves,  sketching the wildflowers, critters and birds that she noticed in her small Field Notes book.

“You get to know an area so much better when you’re looking at things instead of wandering through looking at the overall picture.”

At Colorado Gulch she set up the easel she had packed in her backpack. Then she dunked her Aquabord—an absorbent surface designed for watercolor—in the creek and fished out a cup of water to paint with.

 
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Poo Wright-Pulliam paints a scene in Howard Preserve near Bellevue. PHOTO: Wendee Monson
 

“I don’t know if I would use this water if it were not so clear. One place that was not left some residue on my picture. I decided it was okay in that case. But we are lucky to have this wonderful clear water,” she said.

Back at the easel Wright-Pulliam sketched an outline of what she saw in front of her. Then she dabbed a bit of wax on the snowy ridge she had sketched to keep the watercolors from coloring it. She then painted the sky with a broad brush and dabbed it with Kleenex to create the illusion of clouds

“There’s a lot to learn about how watercolor works. A lot of people say it’s not very forgiving,” she said. “And you’ve got to work fast when you’re outdoors, because the light is always changing. I will take a photograph so I can finish the painting in my studio if I have to.”

On occasion, someone stops to see what she’s doing. Often they’ll ask her about her paintings. Other times they discuss the history of the area, or the things they’ve seen wandering through the preserve.

“I don’t mind when people stop to watch,” said Wright-Pulliam. “If kids come, I love it. I have pens and paper and I encourage them to draw their own pictures. Who knows if it might start a career in art for some of them.”

Wright-Pulliam taught a free class for the Land Trust at the Draper Preserve as part of her residency, showing participants  the parts of wildflowers, how many legs a butterfly has and different bird beaks.

Participants then headed into the preserve to create their own field sketches.

Consider the world as nature journaler John Muir Laws, she told them: “I notice. I wonder. And it reminds me of…”

She picked up a leaf that had drifted onto her palette.

“I notice this has brown splotches. I wonder what tree it came from. Then I realize it reminds me of an aspen leaf, but it’s not an aspen leaf.”

Each of the preserves has its memorable moments.

At a paint site atop Muldoon Summit, she made a sketch with a piece of wood that had burned in the Sharps Fire. At Boxcar Bend she spotted a sandpiper caring for its babies. And she sketched grouse turds at Rinker Rock Creek Ranch, noting that the bird has flirted with inclusion on the endangered species list.

“I'd love to learn how to squeeze the juices of plants into my paint to establish a connection to the land, as well,” she said.

Wright-Pulliam says she hopes those who see her works will gain a new appreciation for the preserves that line the Big Wood River.

“Maybe they’ll look at one of my paintings and say, ‘I need to take care of these beautiful places,” she said. “Maybe they’ll say, ‘I need to go find that view, that chickadee in the brush. Maybe they’ll say, ‘I need to look harder when I’m walking through these places.”

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