Neltje – the Brinton 101
“New York City was my birthplace in October of 1934. My early years were spent on Long Island at a time when it was rural and in South Carolina on a plantation where hidden and mysterious goings on took place amongst the trees shrouded with Spanish moss. In the narrow canals of rice fields I fished from flat bottom boats with lures of wild colors and vicious tripod hooks. I climbed trees, rode horseback, wandered canal banks of dark pooled swamps and fell in love with a world that was unknowable – other. People didn’t interest me. On Long Island the woods and the treetops were my home. From the safe caverns among leaves and branches I listened to the adults’ conversation, watched squirrels and chipmunks scramble, ate sun sweetened cherries, and upon descent fought with my brother who was a year older. Lifestyle and furnishings in the house were formal and so too was the family behavior. I hated it. In the third grade I failed art because I would not paint or crayon within the lines. I felt life to be chaotic; myself to be a leaf blown by winds of force without attachment. A precursor of my art making now. In high school I had an extraordinary History of Art teacher, Sarah B. McClennan. She taught me to see. At age eighteen I married. I had two children by age twenty three and was divorced at age twenty eight. I did no artwork until age thirty when I picked up a piece of charcoal to sketch my children while they were playing jacks on the floor or just lying about. They were faceless. The weight and position of the body, the angle of a hand, tilt of a head, bend in a knee told the story of emotion: theirs and my feelings about them. In June 1966 I moved with my children to a ranch in Wyoming from an apartment on Park Avenue in New York City. For one month I shoveled sheep manure three feet deep out of an old beaten up sheep shed. We made our home in a trailer while the ranch house was being remodeled and spent most of the summer making order out of a trash heap. Skies were crystalline. Shade was hard to come by, but there was a creek and a reservoir to swim in, thistles to spray, box elder bugs to annoy, and space. Incredible open space. Rolling scoria topped hills. A lush valley that meanders to the Big Horn Mountains. These mountains are sometimes blue sometimes purple or grey, but they are never the same. I had found home. I sculpted in wax, cast in bronze. I made collages. I painted. My second husband who was a painter made my making art impossible with interruptions and demands. I did something else. For eighteen years I owned and operated the Sheridan Inn, a National Historic Site that I renovated. In the years I owned the Sheridan Inn, I learned to cook for five hundred people, fix the dishwasher, cocktail waitress, janitor, but never do the books or run a cash register. Incompetent. I opened a gallery for contemporary art in the upstairs portion of the Inn, and there was a gift shop to run as well as the restaurant and saloon. Those years gave me a crash course in life. You have to be crazy to be in the food business. I thought the same of marriage; it ended after six years. Whether I return from a voyage to the Antarctic or Alaska, or even a simple drive to Billings, Montana, two hours away, I feel a thrill of excitement and belonging when I come back to the Big Horn Mountains and these surrounding hills. The thunderous yet quiet sense of being that those mountains give me cannot be parlayed into easy identity. The size and variety of shape, the constancy that changes in the shifting light, the eons of history that lie in geological layers, the human and animal history that passes through the crevasses and open pasturelands, all tumble together to manifest a sense of majesty, a life giving force. Since 1985 my life is my artwork. I create because I am driven to define moments, emotional responses to the natural world, and the chaos that seems to be life’s breath. My senses live on red alert. All of them. I am sustained by, obsessed with, my soul filled to brimming virtually daily by the grand, the infinitesimal, the lightest and the darkest of images and insights. My passions fierce and demanding enforce me to forge a whole of reverie and reality. I paint.
“I am driven to define moments, emotional responses to the natural world, and the chaos that seems to be life’s breath. I am sustained by, obsessed with, my soul filled to brimming, by the grand, the infinitesimal, the lightest and the darkest. Fierce and demanding passions forge a whole of reverie and reality. My life is my artwork.
Neltje about her work in The Brinton 101