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Sue Cedarholm Is Creating One New Painting, Every Day, For A Year

Through her column, "Watercolor Diary", she'll share visual vignettes about her interludes outdoors

Artist Sue Cedarholm on a recent backpacking trek in Tasmania.
“Mountains have been in view for my entire life.” This is how Jackson Hole multi-media artist Sue Cedarholm begins the conversation.

“I grew up on the front range of Colorado, Greeley to be exact. Greeley had the reputation of being the smelliest town in the state. ‘The smell of money,’ is what the townspeople said. We laid claim to the largest feedlot in the world at that time, 100,000 cattle. Every third grader took a field trip to see this massive feedlot.”

Meanwhile, Cedarholm would gaze out her bedroom window and see Longs and Meeker Peaks in the distance, longing for the next time she’d be on the trails in clean air. During her youth, she spent 10 summers going to camp in Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  “The first time I went to Jackson was in college, a spring break ski trip,” she says. “I can still remember the day I saw the Tetons out the van window. I knew at that moment I would live here.”

Like many Coloradans, Cedarholm also grew up skiing.  “The Jackson Hole Ski Area was funky and the best skiing I had ever experienced, better than anything in Colorado. I was hooked,” she adds. “ I graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in marketing. After graduation I packed up my Volkswagen Rabbit with my earthly belongings and moved to Jackson. I can still remember the feeling of elation and freedom as I drove across the high wild plains of Wyoming in January headed north.”

Cedarholm will regularly be creating a package of image of words called “Watercolor Diaries” that chronicle moments of reflection.

MOUNTAIN JOURNAL: You came to Jackson Hole like many young people do—with no long-term plan, just a will to be here and see what happens.  You left Colorado in part to escape the crush of humanity settling along the Front Range and filling up the mountain valleys. How is Jackson Hole now?

SUE CEDARHOLM:  Thirty-seven years after I left Colorado,  I am still in Jackson. But what used to be a small idyllic town nestled under the mass of the Tetons is now a overrun tourist mecca.  The Front Range of Colorado, meanwhile, is now bumper-to-bumper cars from Ft. Collins to Pueblo—something we need to avoid in the Greater Yellowstone.

MOJO:  Summers are busy in Jackson Hole.

:  We “locals” can still find out-of-the-way places to find solace in the wilderness, but it is getting harder and harder to do. Those evenings when I head to String Lake with my kayak, I see the families enjoying the lake, laughter ringing out across the water. I smile and am happy to share, knowing in a few short weeks we will have this place to ourselves again.

MOJO: As a visual person who works across media, from photography to painting and even creating popular silk scarves, what do you enjoy about each one?

CEDARHOLM: I love them all because they are just different ways for me to express what I see out there in the wilderness. Photography is great because you can capture a moment as it is. It is a challenge because you can’t change things once you click the shutter. Painting is completely different.  You can paint a scene as it was or change elements to make a better composition. You can use any color you want, you can move mountains when you paint. I think you can express emotion better with paint than with a photograph. My silk scarves involve watercolor painting on fabric. But paint moves differently on silk; it is so fun to watch the color flow. Plus, then you have wearable art.

MOJO: You're a Mom of two grown daughters, raised in Jackson Hole and each having set out on their own adventures—to NYC and working on crews aboard ocean sailing boats.  But they are back in the Tetons, among the waves of younger folk who come to Greater Yellowstone and use it as a stopover for figuring out their lives. Do the same things that originally drew you here resonate with them?

Artist Sue Cedarholm in the field.
Artist Sue Cedarholm in the field.
: I think so. They grew up here and thought it was a small town and always wished we had a mall. For birthday parties, we would go to the mall in Idaho Falls. They spent time in New York and Denver and now they appreciate what this place has to offer. As a result, they want to live here. It is so great to have them back home and to share the wildness these mountains have to offer.  They now truly appreciate what it meant to grow up in this valley. You can't tell them that they have to go away and see more parts of the world to know what a special place this is. 

MOJO: Can a working-class Millennial who isn't a trustafarian make it here?

CEDARHOLM: I don’t know how. It is very difficult. It is difficult for those of us who have been here for 37 years to keep hanging on.

MOJO: "Watercolor Diary" is the name of your regular column for MoJo which will involve short little meditations on place. But it's also part of a new series you've started, your way of documenting your reflective moments afield in Greater Yellowstone and over the course of your many ongoing far-flung adventures.  Collectors love your sweet little remembrances and you've priced them to be affordable. How did you conceive of the idea?

CEDARHOLM: I started painting these little watercolor sketches at first to get back into painting. I read an article about a woman who painted 100 paintings and I thought I can do that. It then became a visual journal, because I was painting what I was doing or what I had seen that day or the one prior. So I decided to call the first Watercolor Diary. Some of the paintings succeed and some are more of a struggle but I share them regardless because they are my recording of place. I have painted more than 150 days in a row. My goal is to paint 365 and then who knows what I will do. But it is fascinating to look back through them and see the seasons change, reliving my travels one painting at a time.

MOJO: Is there a place where readers can view them?

CEDARHOLM: Yes at Watercolor Diary.

MOJO:  How does Jackson Hole stack up against all the other places you've been traveling on photographic safaris to Africa, South America, Alaska and Antarctica as an executive assistant working for nature photographer Tom Mangelsen?

CEDARHOLM: Seeing new places, wildlife and meeting people from around the world is something I truly enjoy. But there is nothing like flying back into Jackson, seeing the Tetons out the plane window and knowing you are home.  Once I have unpacked, done my laundry, looked at my images from a trip I am ready to go again, ready for the next adventure. Many times that adventure and a new painting is found right here in these jagged peaks. 
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