Small Town Small Talk in Dubois

knightdedication“I’ve had enough of small towns,” said our dinner guest last Tuesday, a friend of a friend. “I know what they’re like. I grew up in one. Small-minded people with boring lives.”

How many people, we asked, do you know in Dubois?

“Oh, not many. I mostly go to the Superfoods and the post office, sometimes the Cowboy. And then home.”

You should try to meet a few, we suggested.

“How would I do that?”

Oh, maybe go to Happy Hour. Or volunteer for something. There should be some way you could help out.

pict0113One day later, invited to dinner at someone else’s home, we noticed the photos of Italy rotating on the digital frame on her kitchen’s island. And then a few from somewhere in eastern Europe.

What is it about Dubois, we asked ourselves. So many people here with so much interesting history. There are so many fascinating back-stories, once you start to ask. For instance, these weren’t vacation snapshots. She worked for a federal agency and traveled the world on business.

Someone in New York asked me once if there’s diversity in Dubois. Well, not in the usual politically correct sense of the word. Our minister is a black woman, but she doesn’t feel like “diversity” because she grew up here. You don’t see Latinos on the street every day, or people from China or Korea or even Native Americans. But yes: There is tremendous diversity in another sense.

We lived many kinds of lives in many other places, and then at some point decided to take that crazy leap and follow the dream that we had been cherishing for so many years. And here we all are.

billyshouse101515Those who have always lived here are just as worth engaging in many long conversations: The orphan wrangler who married the debutante from out east, and happily settled down on the ranch. The logger who kept on lumbering and built a life after the sawmill closed, because leaving was just not an option. These are just the first two who come to mind.

It’s also great fun to talk to the younger people who have landed here for one reason or another. So many hope to find a way to stay.

This evening I went for a book signing, to celebrate a new biography of local artist and historian Tom Lucas. It’s written by someone who moved here a few years ago (she and her husband just couldn’t stay away), became intrigued by his life, and decided to document it all.

lucas-bookAs I expected, the event was packed, with people spilling out from his gallery onto the sidewalk and lined up inside to buy the book. I can’t wait to read it, even though I know Tom well and count him a good friend. There must be lots I still don’t know.

Tom is a remarkable person, and well deserving of this distinction. But come to think of it, so many fascinating biographies could be written here. The mind boggles.

 

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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The Lady and Her Knight

It’s her birthday, so she gives a gift to Dubois. A very large one.

john_and_knightIt was her 92nd birthday, so Leota Didier gave Dubois a present: a life-sized bronze statue of a cowboy. He now stares steadfastly off to the north from the front of the log-hewn Dennison Lodge, one of our favorite gathering places.

So typical: It’s Leota’s birthday, so she gives a big present to the town. The sculpture is an enlargement of the knight figure from a chess set that her former neighbor, artist John Finley, created in 1979, using Western-themed characters.

“I wanted to be sure to get this done while I still had time,” Leota said, in her deep, gruff voice. “I saw a statue like this in a town somewhere else, and I said: Dubois needs something like that.”

Like what? “Something that represents the spirit of the town.”

John is a diffident fellow, but also an old friend. Somehow she persuaded him to undertake the arduous task of recreating a chess piece as a monument.

chess-setLeota has already given much to her hometown. In fact, she was important to the historic Dennison Lodge itself, throwing herself into the effort to bring it to town when it was threatened with demolition in the 1990s. Out in the wilderness where she used to ride, it had been part of a dude ranch where notables such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once stayed.

Like so many others devoted to Dubois, Leota is a transplant. She was born in Iowa, and first came to town in 1970 when her husband Bernard, a Presbyterian minister, diverted them here from Denver during a vacation.

“Bernard was a funny man,” she told me recently. “He would get these urges. We came to Wyoming and he fell in love with it.”

She had thought they would be traveling on to California, but Bernard changed his plan. He had read somewhere that dilapidated ranches were going for marvelous prices in Wyoming. They came here instead, and a week laterlazylb they owned a ranch.

For many years, they ran the Lazy L&B Ranch (the “L” is for Leota) just down the East Fork valley from the Finleys. Two owners later, it’s still a very successful guest ranch.

(I owe my presence in Dubois to Leota, as I love to remind her. We stayed at the Lazy L&B nearly 30 years ago, and never stopped coming back to this area. I was delighted to see her still here when we finally moved to town.)

When Bernard passed away, Leota sold the ranch. As she aged, she slowly gave up her beloved horseback riding and moved to town. You see her often, always elegantly dressed and wearing one of her signature cowboy hats, whether at the rodeo, at church, or checking guests in at the weekly square dance in town (which devotes its earnings to charity).

leotaIt seemed like the whole town had turned out at the Dennison yesterday, to celebrate with Leota and join in as Reverend Melinda Bobo gave a blessing.

I was late for the ceremony. “What did you bless?” I asked Melinda.

“The statue,” she said. “The town. The community.”

One of its great blessings sat on a folding chair near the door, evidently enjoying her birthday celebration, and wearing her signature smile.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

A Brief History of the History of Dubois

We’re rightly proud of our history and our Museum. Both need attention to stay alive.

DMAlogo5In a sense, our history goes back eons, to the time when the mountains in our backyards were being pushed up and carved out.

In another sense, it’s only 40 years old–dating to the time of the bicentennial, when a group of Dubois residents decided it to create a museum to document it all.

MuseumDay2015_CrosscutSawDemoForty years ago, in 1976, a group of Dubois villagers began to collect interesting artifacts, from vintage household items and old tools to remnants of Native American culture. They fretted about how to decide which items were worth keeping. They planted trees and shrubs, and made arrangements to move buildings such as an old post office and a forestry cabin to the site of the new museum on the main street.

“Possibility was discussed of acquiring some old cabins in the area and moving them to the museum,” read the very first recorded minutes of the Dubois Museum Association.  Today, the Museum’s collection of historic cabins is one of its best features.

HomesteadCabin Exterior

The result of these efforts is one of the best spots in Dubois. The displays reach from ancient geology to the history of a landmark guest ranch, with a long stop midway to portray the distant and recent history of Native Americans. The Museum also sponsors regular treks to the remnants of history hidden in the landscape nearby.

“My favorite part was the historical cabins that were brought in from around the area,” wrote a visitor last month on TripAdvisor. “They highlighted local historical figures and gave a great overview of the tie hack industry. Really worth seeing!”

“Great museum for a small town,” reads the most recent review on TripAdvisor. “It is small but a very nice surprise.”

MainBldgInteriorI’ve never understood why everyone in town isn’t a member of the DMA, because the heritage of Dubois is so fascinating, so fragile and precious (and easily lost), and so crucial to our identity and future as a community.

There’s so much to preserve, document, and celebrate: The creators of the petroglyphs and sheep traps, the courageous Mountain Men, the hunters and trappers, indomitable homesteaders, the hardy and heroic tie hacks, the cowboys and painters and quilters.

In its cabins and its tiny main building (the prospect of a new and better one always seems to recede into the distance), the Museum somehow captures it all.

There’s often confusion about the difference between the administration of the Museum, which is owned and run by Fremont County, and the Dubois Museum Association, the volunteers who created it in the first place and still provide regular support. We pay for the purchase of important items such as cameras for documenting acquisitions and IPads for interactive displays, and we recently provided supplies and manpower to replace the rotting boardwalk that leads between those charming cabins.

We also sponsor a popular annual community event, Museum Day, in the middle of July.

EstherWellsLately, we’ve also been carrying out oral histories of local residents. For instance, we videotaped an interview with centenarian Esther Wells recalling her life as a child and young wife homesteading up one of the mountain valleys, and another with Kip Macmillan as he recounted a childhood visit to the camp where German prisoners of war were serving as tie hacks during World War II. The originals are housed, of course, at the Museum.

If you haven’t seen the Museum lately, please visit. The exhibits change all the time.

If you haven’t thought much about supporting it, please consider joining the Dubois Museum Association. The dues are an affordable $10, although many people contribute more.

This Saturday, the Dubois Museum Association celebrates 40 years of serving the community, at its 2016 annual meeting at the Dennison Lodge. I am a proud member of its Board of Directors.

Boardwalk (2)“You only need to sit in at meetings,” said my neighbor Dorothy when she asked me to replace her on the Board years ago. It’s been so much better than that, because we are a vital and dedicated group with a mission that we feel to be extremely important.

Our history is always there, but it isn’t permanent. It will only stay alive as long as we continue to pay attention to it.

Happy 40th anniversary, DMA! Here’s to a long and fruitful life ahead.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

For Our Eyes Only: Dubois April Art Show

Not too crowded at this off-season exhibit. Lucky us.

EmptyCowboyWell, that headline isn’t entirely true. Unlike some of the paintings on display, the three-man art show held last Sunday evening at a local church was not exactly invitation-only.

However, not too many outsiders are likely to turn up at an art show in Dubois this time of year, as you can see from this picture I took the following Friday morning in the Cowboy Cafe.

We’re hoping someday to see those tables just as occupied in the early spring as they will be a few months later, when we’re lucky to get a seat.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes below on a poor rendition of one of the paintings I saw last Sunday. Artist Greg Beecham calls the painting “Tween Dreams and Waking.”

That’s a good metaphor for the vision some local people have about the future of this equally beautiful valley. Things have turned down since the 2008 recession, but I think they’re looking up these days.

This swan is one of four wildlife paintings by Beecham that will be featured this summer in the invitation-only Prix de West exhibition at the National Cowboy Heritage and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. All four (including a grizzly, a wolf, and a falcon) were on view last Sunday.

Beecham_Swan

This is the third year that Greg has sponsored an exhibition of works by local painters in April, the quietest month in Dubois. They call it a gift to the community. It’s a chance for us to see some of the best art by our neighbors, up close and personal, at at time when we’re not all going loopy trying to serve the needs of our visitors.

Starting in about a month, the town will explode with returning “snowbirds,” many of whom are fine amateur or professional artists. But quite a few, like Greg, have chosen to live in Dubois year-round. He and his family have been here for 20 years.
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He told me that he and his wife Lu (who is the business manager for the local schools) “kept moving farther and farther away from the hubbub” in western Washington state two decades ago, but the hubbub kept chasing them. At a local art show in Ellensburg WA, he asked the husband of an artist from Casper where they could find a place in Wyoming that was not too crowded, had a good school for the kids, wasn’t too cold, and was beautiful.

Without hesitation, the man replied, “Dubois.”

They looked first in Colorado, because his parents came from Grand Junction. But even back then, he said, there were still too many people in Colorado.

So they detoured back through Dubois “to see if what the guy had said was true.” Within a few weeks, they had bought property in town.

Last weekend’s art show also featured works by Jerry Antolik and Tom Lucas. Antolik lives in the tiny nearby hamlet of Hudson, where he focuses his efforts on murals. But his portraits are also excellent, and as you see here he also does fine wildlife paintings.Antolik_MooseAntolik told me he was up on Union Pass quietly working beside this pond full of lily pads when the moose suddenly emerged with her calf.

Tom Lucas, who grew up nearby in Lander, is as much a historian as a painter. He’s well known locally for his monumental effort to research and recreate the methods by which the ancient Shoshone treated the horns of bighorn sheep, to craft the legendarily strong and supple bows that allowed them to be master hunters.

Travel_LucasOne of his bows was on display last Sunday, along with several of his masterful paintings of native crafts. As part of learning to paint them, as you can see from the beaded bag in this picture, he also recreates them.

Tom, whom I consider a good friend, told me he began to paint as a young lad because he was inspired by the work of Charlie Russell. “I never thought I could get to be that good,” he said, “and maybe I’m not.” But you can see how far he has come in that direction.

He also said that he hoped the show might inspire the same dream for some of its young visitors. If it does, they’re in a good place to find living mentors.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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14 Reasons to Love Dubois, Wyoming

Again and again, people come to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fall in love. How does this happen?

DuboisWYValentineYou hear about it again and again:  Someone came to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fell in love. How does this happen?

Let me count the ways. Those lucky folks who discover Dubois are:

1. Stunned by the scenery: A too well-kept secret. Granite peaks that rival the Grand Tetons for their splendor. The fascinating, slowly melting red desert. The quiet forests and mountain streams. The vistas never fail to astonish.

2. Seduced by the climate:  The weather is most often pleasant and dry. The sun shines most of the time. Days are generally mild in winter, and cool in summer.

Petro 93.  Fascinated by the history … and the prehistory. From the mysterious carvers of the petroglyphs to the courageous and resilient Mountain Men and homesteaders, the people of the past never fail to amaze.

4.  Charmed by the people of the present:  The welcoming instincts of Dubois’ townspeople and their impulse to help themselves and each other make it difficult to resist loving the whole community, once you get to know it.

5.  Awed by the animals:  The other beautiful residents of this valley appear unexpectedly, and leave you catching your breath in awe. You’d surely be poorer if you never saw an eagle fly–or watched an elk bound away, or glimpsed a mighty moose in the willows.

6.  Healed by the hikes (or the horseback rides):  Whatever the little misery that clouds your vision, it will vanish as soon as you can step outdoors, pause for a deep breath, and take the first few strides.

wintertrail.7.  Silenced by the snow: The noisy burdens and pressures of daily life melt away when you can get out into the soft, deep white of it, whether you’re marching on snowshoes, gliding on skis, or sailing along on your snowmobile. (It’s all good–and never too cold, as long as you stay out of the wind and wear enough layers. Don’t forget the sunglasses!)

8.  Romanced by the remoteness: It takes about an hour’s drive to find yourself in traffic or in a crowd. What does surround you? The beauty of nature, most of it accessible as public land. That said, there are plenty of good places to buy a meal or even an espresso.

9.  In love with the location:  Smack-dab in the middle of the great American West. It’s about an hour’s drive to Yellowstone in one direction and to a restored ghost town and gold mine in the other, stopping to visit Sacajawea’s grave on the reservation along the way. You’re a few days easy driving from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park … I’ll stop there, for now.

1200px-US_map_-_geographic10.  Drawn to the artists:  You may not be skilled at capturing what you see on canvas (or film), but so many others are. Plenty of them have not resisted the lure of living here, and you have ample opportunities to admire their work on display at art or photography shows, or in local galleries.

11.  Overcome by events:  Did you think there would be nothing to do out here in the middle of so much wilderness? I find I actually welcome a quiet evening at home, after last night’s lecture on animal migrations, the jam session the night before, my neighbor’s dinner party followed by cards, and on and on. I must be sure to be rested up before the Soupenanny next weekend! I’m so sad I was closed out of that free course on early Native American art and elected to miss the hike about animal prints in the snow. Thank heaven it’s still midwinter, when not much is going on. So many choices, so little time!

12.  Beguiled by the benevolence:  There are at least 30 nonprofit organizations in a town that has not quite 1000 residents, as of the last census. Nearly every event is a benefit for one cause or another, and when we run into a true crisis — a catastrophic fire in the middle of the business district, the threatened cancellation of our ambulance service — the way Dubois pulls together to rise and recover is almost beyond descriptions.

DuboisQuiltShow080815_213.  Captivated by the creativity: Knitters and quilters. Guitarists and fiddlers. Woodcarvers and antler sculptors. Jewelry designers and master caterers. (So what is lacking here in Dubois? Walmart.)

14.  Finally, found by new friends:  I heard someone recently describe meeting people in this town as like opening a box of chocolates and finding that they’re all truffles. Among the good friends I have met here are a nuclear physicist, a retired cowboy, a Parisian photographer, a Swedish schoolteacher-turned-wrangler, a great hairdresser (“Excuse me, where do you get your hair cut? Oh, Wyoming. Where’s that?”), a computer wizard, several lawyers and a dentist, numerous artists (of course), and a microbiologist. My hiking buddy grew up in Singapore and Pakistan. Our newest neighbors have moved here from Baton Rouge.

So different, yet we all get along remarkably well. Why? We all share our love for this one remarkable place.

 

 

 

Wyoming Wool Works. Wow! (Who Knew?)

I never even noticed this charming shop which would fare well on the streets of trendy Brooklyn. Why is it so invisible in Dubois?

wyowool10How could I have lived in Dubois for 8 years without even knowing about Wyoming Wool Works? Because it was in hiding.

A neighbor new to town diverted me into this charming shop on the way back from a hike in the badlands. I probably never would have gone in there otherwise, because I don’t knit or crochet.

Besides, it’s in a nondescript location: the block-like old Masonic Temple building, out beyond the main intersection on the way toward the town dump.

I stop all the time at the Opportunity Shop right next door, but I’ve never noticed Wyoming Wool Works. It has no display windows, and not even a real sign. The only clue that it is inside is a small text-only black and white placard on the stair rail.

We had to turn a corner into an office-like corridor to reach the shop door. And then: Oh, my goodness. I caught my breath.

wyowool2Wyoming Wool Works is no mere purveyor of yarns and crochet hooks (although you can buy those, including one made from a ram’s horn).

You can also buy hand-knitted woolen hats, sweaters, and jackets. Hand-painted aprons. Crocheted rugs. Delightful huge baskets made from large strips of felt. There are also a few antiques.

The proprietor’s excellent taste is unmistakeable. Given more visibility, this shop would stand up well on Madison Avenue or on the trendier streets of Brooklyn where I still spend a little time.

It’s a very high-end little treasure chest, curiously hidden from view.

“I get how to run a shop,” said Anita Thatcher, when I got up the nerve after a few days to ask why she keeps such a low profile. What I heard was a love story with some plot elements that are fairly familiar.

Anita started out in New York City. Sometime in the late 1980s (like me) she booked a vacation near Dubois, at what we now politely call a “guest ranch.”

During her visit, the cook quit, was fired, or fell ill — I don’t recall the details. Anita offered to help with the cooking. This is somewhat outré for a guest at what we called a dude ranch back then. But her offer was accepted. She returned the next summer, as the cook.

wyowool6Like me, she fell in love with the area.

Unlike me — but like many other wives I know here — she also fell in love with a cowboy. They bought a ranch in nearby Crowheart, where a neighbor woman, also from New York City, was raising sheep.

Thus began Anita’s love of all things wool (third chapter in this love story). Eventually she and two friends opened a yarn shop in Dubois. But her culinary skills were still in demand locally, and for several decades she has been catering events for hosts of distinction in Dubois.

wyowool1“My husband once asked me if I ever tried to relax,” she said. “I told him I don’t know how.”

Anita’s husband died a while ago. He went the way many cowboys go, she told me, taking too many knocks. She relocated from the Crowheart ranch to Lander and then to Dubois, where she opened Wyoming Wool Works in its current out-of-the-way location, serving a small clientele of local and mail-order customers and offering knitting and weaving classes.

Opening the shop only a few days a week, she admitted, has been one way of intentionally keeping it nearly invisible. A woman only has so much energy, after all. Anita still caters the weekly Kiwanis Club breakfast. She will always do catering for some longstanding clients, she told me, but “it’s time for me to stop carrying food all over the county.”

I’m watching now for the fourth chapter in this love story. At an age when Anita needs to slow down, and when many other women are playing golf or enjoying travel, it may be that she has decided to bring Wyoming Wool Works out of the shadows.

wyowool5“I thought for a while about only operating through the website,” she said. “But then I asked myself, what are you really doing here?”

For the love of Dubois! I do hope she devotes the same creative energies to the future of her delightful shop that she has lavished on her husband and her catering business.

wyowool8She told me with some delight about a recent phone call. A woman from Jackson wanted to bring a group of friends over here to go Christmas shopping. Would Anita open the shop for them?

“Would I?” she said with a chuckle. “I’d even serve scones and tea!”

What a day trip! Escape the crowds. Take a great hike in the morning, have lunch at the Nostalgia Bistro or the Cowboy Cafe. Then stop by that great little yarn shop to see what you can’t resist.

Shopping therapy is a time-honored restorative. In this location that offers respite to so many, I think Anita Thatcher is morally obligated not to keep denying her therapeutic skills to all those people who turn that corner in the middle of town, entirely unaware of what is only a block away.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

The Fine Art of Living in Dubois

The landscape around Dubois made me wish I could paint. Fortunately, many here are able to satisfy that impulse, with great skill.

LazyL&BHorsesI took this snapshot during one of our early visits to the Lazy L&B Ranch east of Dubois, sometime in the 1980s. The first time I saw these landscapes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like them.

Suddenly I wanted to become a painter, to could capture this vision somehow and take it home. For the first time, I understood why painters have to do what they have to do.

I didn’t follow up on that impulse. But many others do, and a fair number of them gravitate to Dubois. Some of the greats, notably Gary Keimig and Tom Lucas, live and work here full time. Many others live and paint here part of the time, and some just travel through to attend workshops.

Instragram must be packed with snapshots from the Wind River Valley, but it’s also a magnet for professional photographers, notably Jeff Vanuga and Claude Poulet.

The variety of views is so immense. It’s so isolated here. You can really get away, and concentrate.

The rest of us lucky residents get to enjoy the results. Here, in one of the most remote towns in the United States, our calendar is crowded with top-rank art shows and photography exhibitions.

SKB2Here’s just one of the dozens of paintings on display last weekend, during the annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop. (The foundation supports art education.) This was not one of the prize winners during that workshop. It is a fair example of the quality of work in the show.

In New York City, I love the way my perception of the cityscape is transformed immediately after visiting an art gallery or museum. The light seems different, and I notice juxtapositions that I didn’t see before.

That doesn’t happen here. Almost any time I step outside, whatever I’ve been doing, the view stops me in my tracks.

Here is one of the prize winners at the SKB show, followed by another painting I particularly liked. Evidently I still don’t know that much about painting.

SKB4SKB3

During other shows, such as the annual quilt show and the photography exhibition. visitors as well as judges are invited to vote for their favorites.

I don’t like to do it. That’s always a tough call.

At the recent photography show, while trying to fill out my ballot, I made a new acquaintance. Molly came to Dubois several times for the SKB workshop and, like me, found she couldn’t stop coming back. Now she lives here.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

More to Love in Dubois: The Annual Quilt Show

You learn a great deal about the skill and patience behind this great art. Some are for sale, often for affordable prices.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

 

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Shakespeare in the Winds

TamingoftheShrew072015_2
Shakespeare returned to the Wind River Valley last night, with a riotously engaging performance of Taming of The Shrew at Dubois’ Dennison Lodge.
Petruchio072015
Petruchio arrived in this attire, more a cowboy than a count. He did, of course, get his gal.
TamingPoster
Directed by Diane Springford, the production by the Wyoming Shakespeare Festival Company was supported by the Wyoming Arts Council and presented by Friends of the Library. It’s been several years since the company has come to Dubois. We were very glad to have them back.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.
© Lois Wingerson 2015