I first saw an image of Ensamble Studio’s Beartooth Portal at Tippet Rise Art Center while living in Chile. I instantly questioned whether what I was looking at was real, if it was even possible, or if it was simply a rendering of someone’s imagination. I searched for information about the nearby town of Fishtail, Montana, and it seemed unlikely that someone would build an art center in such a remote place. Upon moving to Colorado a few years later, my partner Caroline and I made it a priority to visit. We planned the trip, scheduling a visit in early September, and anxiously awaited for the date to come. We drove north through eastern Wyoming and as we entered Montana, turning west along I-90, we noticed a strong haze beginning to appear on the horizon, becoming thicker and thicker as we got closer to Tippet Rise. What we had not planned for was one of the largest forest fires in Montana in over a hundred years. Instead of the amazing contrast of rolling prairies crashing into the granite peaks I had so often imagined, everything was now entirely masked in smoke. The Beartooth Mountains were completely hidden and invisible.
Still, we woke at 4 a.m. to photograph the sunrise and as that first light began to arrive, I was left in awe. The sun was completely obscured but the sky was a brilliant array of orange and red tones. The smoke severely limited the usual views but also transformed them into something entirely new. What was typically a vantage point that extended one hundred miles in most directions became a much smaller world that allowed me to see each sculpture, each hill, each feature of the landscape in its own right. With its unique topography and deliberate art, Tippet Rise is always an experience of incredible discovery, but in this rare occurrence the experience became even more profound as views opened and narrowed depending on distance, wind, and light.
After three days of shooting we left, amazed and exhausted, reflecting on the fire skies and the enormity of the experience. Over time I began to contemplate the unexpected beauty and the resulting impact of those days. How do you seek out something that you cannot predict, plan for, or even know exists beforehand? After many journeys and much time spent observing Tippet Rise over the past three years, I have learned that you can only come here and be open to whatever will be. You can never be certain what you will find here, you can only be fully present. A warm summer day might be overcome by an early snow, or a clear day may see thick fog rolling across the hills without warning; tremendous storms can circle on all horizons and yet not a drop will fall on Tippet Rise. One hill might be covered with a quarter inch of ice, each blade of grass crystallized, yet on the next plateau less than half a mile away there is nothing.
Just as the landscapes have changed and continue to change, so do I. I have begun to follow the elements, to observe and learn from them, to adapt to them. Originally, the Structures of Landscape were my entire focus, but slowly and naturally they became a sort of compass point on my map as I explored the prairies and canyons of Tippet Rise. The sculptures began to act as my guides—my constants—in a limitless landscape. They frame the vista, looking outward and, amid the vastness, looking inward.
I now go to Tippet Rise Art Center most days—Caroline and I having moved nearby to allow me to focus on my work there. As I walk the land, set up my camera, and seek my particular field of vision, I find new worlds within the land, within the Structures of Landscape, and within myself. In each moment there is a window into the dynamism and mystery of the universe, an endless source of possibility and potential to feel magic, to find a deeper understanding of time, to truly know the essence of a place, and to feel connected to it all.