It wasn’t long before the clear nights of photographic activity and subsequent days of driving took their toll. I camped in the remote Sage Creek area of Badlands National Park, where the campground was an oasis in the middle of those badlands, an oasis with no water and no open fires allowed.
The sky was dark and clear, but I was exhausted. I made a feeble attempt to ready my equipment for what promised to be a beautiful evening but decided to nap instead. As I “rested my eyes”, I could hear a neighboring camper who, with more energy and an eager audience, had set up a telescope and was conducting a tour of the night sky. Someday I will return to this unusual and remote site; maybe then that night sky guide will be me…
The next morning, eyes rested, I saw that the previous day had been a bust: only a short distance traveled and no pictures to show for it. I decided to change my travel strategy, turn off the blue highways onto the interstate, and drive a full 800 miles to Missoula, Montana. Here was a good time and place to stay at a traveler’s hotel. The gathering clouds and subsequent rain meant that there would be no picture-taking tonight. Along with a do-not-disturb sign, I now had permission and the ability to sleep-in with zero guilt.
In the morning as I checked out, I once again admired the large artwork above the fireplace mantel in the lobby. I had immediately noticed it the night before while checking in: a beautiful rendering of Montana grasslands, with mountains and distant weather building in the background: big sky country. It was a work of pastel, that ambiguous medium between drawing and painting, and there were other similar but smaller pieces on the lobby walls. I inquired about them and learned that they were the work of a local artist, Kip Herring, who was represented by a nearby gallery, “Marie’s Arteries”.
Despite the name, I decided to visit. In the past I had regretted not acquiring artwork when first encountering it. A series of woodcuts by a Vermont printmaker had struck me when I first saw them in a countryside gallery during a bicycle trip through New England. I admired the prints, but then continued on. In the years since, I always wished I had acquired them so that I could enjoy them each day in my home. Here was a similar situation, works of art that somehow resonated with me, encountered by accident while passing through.
At Marie’s Arteries I found a few more samples of Kip Herring’s work. Despite the risk of damage to the delicate prints while transporting them in a vehicle filled with camping gear and telescopes and headed to the back country, I purchased two modest pieces and protected them as best I could with cardboard. They would remain buried flat on their backs, in the back of the van, for the next six weeks. I planned to frame them and start a small collection of original art prints. As I left Missoula to continue my westward drive, I felt pleased that this time when the art spoke to me, I had listened.
Note from the future: Kip Herring’s work has evolved in the years since this virtual encounter, as has his artistic identity. He is now Arthur Herring and his work continues to attract attention, though perhaps less for the intimacy with the Montana landscape of his earlier works than for its subsequent cosmic connections. It is all a masterful depiction of the world around us and it is fascinating to see his exploration of it in the medium of his choice.