Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | The Vote is In

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | And The Winner Is…?

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My final night at Sperry. I am sad to be leaving and wishing I could stay for another week  (except that I miss my dog!). The time flew by– it went so fast.

In exchange for my time at the Sperry Chalet I was asked to donate a painting done during my stay. On my last night at the chalet I decided to ask  the amazing staff and guests of the chalet help me to decide which painting would the one by voting on all the paintings done during my time at the chalet.

Drum-roll please….

I assigned each painting a number and after dinner I encouraged every one to vote for the painting they liked the best. In a surprise turn of events we had a tie between the painting of the falls and the wild flower series! Drama, drama, drama! It was all very American idol.

Wildflowers at Sperry Chalet
Wildflowers at Sperry Chalet

So then we had a tie breaker vote.

The wildflower series won by a single vote.

Here they are framed and ready to hang in the chalet!

I want to thank Kevin and the staff of the chalet for an amazing experience. It was glorious and very hard work. I loved every  minute of it…well maybe not the hike in–that about killed me! (Rene I apologize. I was very grumpy when I arrived.)  But the rest of it was simply wonderful, beyond words! I was overwhelmed and inspired by the landscape. The opportunity to dive into my craft without interruption was priceless.


I am so looking forward to devoting some time this winter to doing some larger canvas of the utterly sublime and immense panoramic vistas from the glacier. I can’t wait to create a series of paintings from the tarns. I was quite enchanted with the reflections of snow, ice and the color of the water.


Stay tuned there will more to come out of my adventures at Sperry Chalet!

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Painting at Sperry Glacier and at the Falls

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Painting at Sperry Glacier and at the Falls

Once again I am indulging my inner geek because I wanted to know more about these little critters. No doubt, this may be more than you ever wanted to know about them!

Marmot Encounter along the Sperry Glacier Trail

Marmots live in the western United States and southwestern Canada, including the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. It inhabits steppes, meadows, talus fields and other open habitats, sometimes on the edge of deciduous or coniferous forests, and typically above 6,500 feet of elevation.

Their territory is about 4 to 7 acres around a number of summer burrows. Marmots choose to dig burrows under rocks because predators are less likely to see their burrow. Predators include wolves, foxes, coyotes and eagles (and I asked several people if the knew the answer to this question!). When a marmot sees a predator, it whistles to warn all other marmots in the area (giving it the nickname “whistle pig”). Then it typically hides in a nearby rock pile.

Marmots reproduce when about two years old, and may live up to an age of fifteen years. They reside in colonies of about ten to twenty individuals. Each male marmot digs a burrow soon after he wakes up from hibernation. He then starts looking for females, and by summer may have up to four female mates living with him. Litters usually average three to five offspring per female. Only about half of those pups survive and become yearlings. Marmots have a “harem-polygynous” mating system in which the male defends two or three mates at the same time. Female offspring tend to stay in the area around their home. Male offspring typically leave when they are yearlings and will defend one or more females.

Marmots spend about 80% of their life in their burrow, 60% of which is spent hibernating. They often spend mid-day and night in a burrow as well. These burrows are usually constructed on a slope, such as a hill, mountain, or cliff. The hibernation burrows are can be up to 16 to 23 ft deep, but the burrows constructed for daily use are usually only 3.3 ft deep. Their hibernation period varies on elevation, but it is typically from September to May. Occasionally, they will climb trees and other flora, but they are usually terrestrial.

The marmot is also an omnivore, eating grass, grains, leaves, flowers, legumes, fruit, grasshoppers, and bird eggs.

Ok, back to the art stuff…After my marmot encounter I continued up the trail to the glacier for another attempt at painting the awe inspiriting vista.

Painting at the top of the world!
Painting at the top of the world! Photo courtesy of Roger Hankins


Here I am making another attempt to capture this HUGE vista…alas another rather unsuccessful painting.

Visiting with the Hankin's Family
Visiting with Grant and his family. Photo courtesy of Roger Hankins








From here I headed back down to paint at the falls.


Here are some images of the painting.

And of course, here is another supervisory visits by the goats!

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Glacier National Park Day 6| Painting Horse and Rider at the Chalet

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Glacier National Park Day 6| Painting Horse and Rider at the Chalet
Sperry Chalet
Sperry Chalet


I decided to spend the day painting around the chalet.  On recommendations from some of the staff, I bush-whacked my way around to the other side of the lodge to get a view towards the falls.

Looking back at the Chalet
Looking back at the Chalet







I wanted to capture the early morning light along the trail heading up to the glacier and took great liberties with my use of color!

Coincidentally, when I decided to take a break for lunch this little guy showed up looking for a hand-out. Fickle creature abandoned me as soon as the food was gone – go figure…

After lunch I headed back towards the lodge to paint the rock formation known as “Horse and Rider”. I knew this would be technically very challenging. It took me about five hours and three attempts before I felt like I “got it”. The mountain, of course, is massive, presenting a multitude of  rock faces, and the sun moved quite a bit in that time frame, which created a big shift in the light and shadows. However, I am reasonably happy with the result!

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Painting at Akaiyan Lake and in the Rock Garden

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Glacier National Park Day 5| Painting at Akaiyan Lake and in the Rock Garden

Glacier National Park was so named because it is a prime example of the affect of glaciation. The park can be summed up in three words: Sedimentation, uplift and glaciation. The rock in Glacier is some of the oldest in the world. I was surprised to learn that there are no fossils in the rock even though they are mostly sedimentary. That is a testament to how old the rick is…it is older than most life on the planet. The only known fossils found in the park are of stromatolites, ancient colonies of bacteria.

A sample of some the oldest rocks on Earth
A sample of some the oldest rocks on Earth



In 1850, the area that is now Glacier National Park had over 150 glaciers. When Glacier National Park was created in 1910, there were still over 100 glaciers. Today, just over 100 years later, the number has shrunk to just over 20 and they are melting so fast it is estimated they could be gone as soon as 2020 and by 2030 at the latest.





Akaiyan Lake and Feather Woman Lake are known as “glacial tarns”.  Glacial tarns are remnants of where the Sperry Glacier once carved out rocks thousands of years ago. The unique characteristic turquoise color is caused by rock flour, the fine particulate suspended in the water from the grinding of rock by the glaciers. It is common to see this affect in many of Glacier’s lakes and stream, but within 20-30 years of the glaciers’ demise, the particulate, no longer been resupplied by glaciation, will settle and the beautiful colors of the lakes will disappear into regular blue waters. Which is sad, because look at that color…like WOW!

The effects of rock flour...
The effects of rock flour…

I was completely entranced by these lakes. They were sooooo gorgeous; the ice floating in the water, the refection of the snow and the color of the water. I am looking forward to doing a series of larger canvas of the lakes in the studio this winter.

Plein air at Akaiyan Lake
Plein air at Akaiyan Lake


After I finished this painting at Akaiyan Lake I headed down to the area called the “Rock Garden” At a large terminal moraine, glaciers advanced and melted for a few hundred years at exactly the same rate, dumping their payload in one spot. The materials in a moraine tend to be of every size and shape — ice is indiscriminate about what it can carry. These materials are called “till”. Some “erratic” rocks in moraines are the size of houses. Meltwater, depending on its speed, sorts and rounds materials into layers of boulders, cobbles, pebbles, gravel, sand, silt or clay, in descending order of speed. This “outwash” forms below the terminal end of an alpine glacier. I am no expert, but I think that this is what happened in this area. It is really spectacular and my painting really didn’t do it justice. I am looking forward to making another attempt at it this winter in the studio.

At the Rock Garden
At the Rock Garden



Deluged with an overwhelming amount of information, the plein air painter must decide what is important, what captivates them concerning the subject…and how best to communicate that on canvas. One must also deal with rapidly changing light, weather, wind, insects, suitable places to set up, lack of privacy, unexpected interruptions, equipment, supplies…and all the technical stuff: drawing, composition, values, color, and paint application…all this within two hours or less, in most cases.


While a plein air painting may not be particularly successful in the field it makes an excellent starting point for a larger scale and more resolved painting in the studio.  My experiences at the chalet will inform and ground these studio pieces in a profound way. Often when I am outside painting plein air the painting is complete in and of itself…not a study in other words, but a painting that is intended to be a finished statement.  At other times, I’m out making studies.  I see the plein air studies as my way of building a mental catalog and visual vocabulary of what the landscape has to offer us in the way of color, design, texture, drama, mood, emotion, joy, beauty and all of the other adjectives we attach to the landscape.

Setting up at the Rock Garden
Setting up at the Rock Garden










Artist In Residence – Sperry Chalet | Painting at Lake Ellen Wilson

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Painting at Lake Ellen Wilson
On The Way to Lake Ellen Wilson
On The Way to Lake Ellen Wilson

En plein air (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛn ɛʁ]) is a French expression which means “in the open air” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, which is also called peinture sur le motif (“painting on the ground”) in French.

Artists have long painted outdoors, but in the mid-19th century working in natural light became particularly important to the Barbizon school and Impressionism. The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1870s with the introduction of paints in tubes (resembling modern toothpaste tubes). Previously, each painter made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil. The Newlyn School in England is considered another major proponent of the technique in the latter 19th century.

It was during this period that the “Box Easel”, typically known as the French Box Easel or field easel, was invented. It is uncertain who developed it first, but these highly portable easels, with telescopic legs and built-in paint box and palette, made treks into the forest and up the hillsides less onerous. Still made today, they remain a popular choice even for home use since they fold up to the size of a brief case and thus are easy to store. Many of you saw me schlepping my easel around…sucker gets heavy after a while!


As I was preparing for my sojourn into the Chalet I knew I wanted to do some small paintings of wildflowers so I ordered several 6″ x 8″ inch canvas panels specifically for painting flowers. The wildflowers were fabulous! I spent two days painting around the Lake Ellen Wilson overlook. It is so beautiful! The water is so clear that I could see fish rising to the surface from the overlook. Amazing!

Lake Ellen Wilson Overlook
Lake Ellen Wilson Overlook


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Wanna Be Thief!


I had lots of company the days I painted at the overlook. One my first day I was busily painting away at my little Mariposa lily and I hear paper rustling…When I looked up this little guy was trying to steal my lunch out of my pack! He had his front feet braced against my pack pulling for all he was worth!

My second day painting there a family groups of goats spent several hours hanging around and one of them tried to make off with my trekking pole! I had to run after her to get it back!

A nanny goat and her yearling calf followed me as I walked to a spot with a perfect patch of paint brush. I got my easel set up, took a picture, sketched out my composition and then…she ate it! I was like “Hey, I was just about to paint that!”  Who knew paintbrush was on the menu? I saw them eating lots of it after they ate my subject! hehee.

And last, but not least my painting  at Lake Ellen Wilson overlook (in the company of goats!) looking towards Gunsight pass.

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Lake Ellen Wilson Looking Towards Gunsight Pass



Beginning painting at Lake Ellen Wilson
Beginning painting at Lake Ellen Wilson










Plein Air at Lake Ellen Wilson
Painting at Lake Ellen Wilson

Artist In Residence Sperry Chalet – Day 2

Day 2 – A Walk to the Sperry Glacier

Now listed as an Historic Landmark, the Sperry Chalet hotel was built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway, while the dining chalet was built in 1915. The Chalet was forced to close in 1992 due to safety and environmental concerns. Fortunately it was restored and reopened again in 1999.

Both the chalet and glacier were named after Dr. Lyman B. Sperry of Oberlin College, who scouted for “scenic attractions” on behalf of the Great Northern Railway. Sperry was the leader of the first party to reach the glacier in 1896. He also oversaw the construction of the trail that provided access to the glacier from the Lake McDonald Lodge. Dr. Sperry’s trail, constructed in 1902 and 1903 by college boys from Minnesota, was likely the first organized trail-building effort in the park.

My second day at the chalet I decided to hike up to the Sperry Glacier. A delightful young man named Forrest, working as a server at the chalet gallantly offered carry my easel in for me. Bless his little heart! I am not sure that I could have gotten it up there the first day. The Glacier is about four miles from the chalet and another 1500 feet or thereabouts in elevation. Above and beyond the unbelievably beautiful scenery is the, to me at least, amazing fact that the Sperry Glacier feeds into Avalanche Lake. Here is a picture from the Avalanche Lake side and then from the Sperry Glacier side. Wow, like just wow!

The views are amazing and the scale is vast! Here are some of the photo’s of the hike up to the glacier.

The Sperry Glacier trail is simply gorgeous-crossing several cirques and walking by two glacial lakes named Feather Woman Lake and Akaiyan Lake. Then you work your way up to the Sperry Headwall and climb through some steep stone steps that were blasted into the rock face in the 1920’s. Once you have reached the top of the stairs you are now standing on Comeau Pass. From the top of the pass you will see Glacier Park’s Livingston Range to the north. The huge peak on your right is Mount Edwards and to the left are the two peaks of Gunsight Mountain. The sharp peak to directly to the north is the Little Matterhorn.

To get to the actual glacier you must follow the man made cairns for about a mile through several snowfields and glacial rocks to get to the toe of the Sperry Glacier. Which I didn’t figure out until I was almost back to the pass. Doh!

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Crossing to the Little Matterhorn

Unfortunately, my attempt at a painting on this particular day was unsuccessful – which happens occasionally. The practice of being an artist means “showing up” at the easel even if the work is not going well–or especially if the work is not going well. If you wait for inspiration you may only paint, or write or dance – whatever your particular creative practice may be, on a rare occasions. There is a reason it is called “artWORK! In this case I was so overwhelmed by the sheer scale and beauty of the vista. I mean, how could I possibly capture the essence of this place? One can get a sense of the immense scale by looking at this picture of people crossing the snowfield…

It is deceptive. Things appear much closer than they actually are and you actually have to lean back to see the mountains because they are so far above you. Seeing a human figure in the image helps to give the scene a sense of perspective and proportion that is difficult to understand visually otherwise.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to capture this vista on a larger canvas in the studio this winter.



Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet

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Nanny goat sporting Forest Service Orange
Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Glacier National Park Day 1 – Painting at the Lodge

My first day of painting at the lodge included meeting some of the local residents and the pack train! Everything is packed in and out of the lodge–toilet paper to eggs, including these huge propane tanks! Holy noly!

The park service is studying the impact of humans on mountain goats  by paint-balling them to track them. To her dismay this little nanny goat is setting a fashion trend in brilliant orange.

The views are spectacular! The mosquito’s were horrendous, the bear grass is blooming, filling the air with a sweetness. There is still plenty of snow on the ground and the sound of rushing water is everywhere. It was fantastic.



On the first day I started this painting of Mount Edwards as a demo and an opportunity to interact with guests about the painting process. I got interrupted and distracted by the arrival of the pack train. Unfortunately, this happened a lot…I would get busy working and forget to take pictures of the process! Sometimes I would get the beginning and forget to do some through out, sometimes I would forget to take pictures at the end. A mind it a terrible thing to waste…sheesh! Technically, this painting was challenging as I attempted to convey the sheer size of the mountain looming over me and the ruggedness of the rocks on a 9″ x 12 ” canvas. Initially, I wasn’t very happy with the finished painting, but over the course of the week it grew on me.

Setting up to paint Mount Edwards
Setting up to paint Mount Edwards









Mt Edwards - Artist in Residence Sperry Chalet
Finished Painting of Mt Edwards – Artist in Residence Sperry Chalet



The next painting was the view from the rocks in front of the hotel down towards Lake McDonald and the grueling hike up to the chalet. The late afternoon shadows were quite lovely.

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet Glacier National Park

Artist In Residence at Sperry Chalet | Glacier National Park


Phase I…

I have three trips planned this summer to create a series of paintings created featuring less visited and remote areas of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness area. These paintings will culminate in an exhibition that will feature a mixture of the plein air  studies and a series large studio paintings created from the studies and references photographs taken during the trips dedicated to the artistic process and celebrating the Montana landscape.

On the trail to Sperry Chalet
On the trail to Sperry Chalet

I am off to Glacier National Park and Sperry Chalet to participate in a week long artist in residence program. Halleluiah! I will start at the Sperry trailhead located across Going-to-the-Sun Road from Lake McDonald Lodge and hike up the forested trail with limited views until I get approximately 4 miles into the trip. The trail offers a little bit of everything, including cedar and hemlock groves, fir and larch forest areas, and magnificent cliffs, meadows, and waterfalls. Some of the sites in the area include: Feather Woman Lake, then Akaiyan Lake and, finally, Comeau Pass. The views of the sea of mountaintops are breathtaking.

Sperry Chalet was built in 1913 by James J. and son Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railway, the prime developer of Glacier National Park. Listed as an Historic Landmark, these rustic buildings, built of native rock, have survived their rugged environment relatively unchanged for over 90 years.

The folks at the chalet report that the Sperry Glacier Trail is currently 90% snow covered. Only a couple of brave people equipped with ice axes and crampons have attempted it this year, and they have no reports of anyone making it all the way to the glacier. It may be late July before this trail is easily passable.

Lake Ellen Wilson - Sperry Chalet
Lake Ellen Wilson – Sperry Chalet



The trail to Lincoln Pass and Lake Ellen Wilson is about 50% snow covered. There are still some hazardous side slope snow crossings to contend with, so it is not very easy to explore in this direction either. The way things are melting, this trail may be passable within the week. Let’s hope so!



In 2011, Jake Bramante became the first person to hike all 734 miles of trail in Glacier National Park in one summer. Enjoy his video of the hike to Sperry Chalet and some of the incredible views in the area.