Traveling art exhibit shines spotlight on five creative women in Wyoming

Two of the artist are from Jackson, where the Wyoming Women to Watch exhibit is on display until the spring.
An acrylic painting on canvas by Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho artist Sarah Ortegon HighWalking titled "First Steps." The 30 x 30'' painting also includes intricate beadwork. (Sarah Ortegon HighWalking/Shari Brownfield Fine Art)

This story comes through a content-sharing partnership with Wyoming Public Media.

Women in the U.S. earn more degrees in the fine arts than their male counterparts, but female artists receive much less visibility and fewer sales for their art in comparison. A new exhibit titled Wyoming Women to Watch wants to shift that focus and bring attention to female creativity throughout the state.

In 1987, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) opened in Washington, D.C., making history as the first museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. They later started a recurring exhibition series titled Women to Watch which helps artists in underrepresented regions throughout the world have their work shown on a national stage.

For the first time, the upcoming NMWA Women to Watch show will include the work of an artist with roots in Wyoming. Enrolled Eastern Shoshone member Sarah Ortegon HighWalking is an actress, dancer, painter and beadworker who will be featured alongside 27 other artists in the D.C.-based exhibition starting in April. Ortegon HighWalking is also Northern Arapaho.

But before then, Ortegon HighWalking’s art and the art of four other creative Wyoming women shortlisted for the national show will be traveling across the state as part of the Wyoming Women to Watch exhibition. The show will make its first stop at the Shari Brownfield Fine Art Gallery in Jackson this month.

An up-close look at beadwork on Ortegon HighWalking’s 2016 piece “First Steps.” (Sarah Ortegon HighWalking/
Shari Brownfield Fine Art)

Shari Brownfield is the gallery and art advisory firm’s owner. She said the exhibition is an opportunity to build connections between women in the industry.

“The artist that we spoke with felt validated from this experience in a way that they hadn’t felt before,” she said. “The connection to other female artists that they may not have had was something that they all felt a huge gift to themselves and their own creativity.”

Brownfield is also one of the founding members of the Wyoming Committee for NMWA, which was formed in 2021 to help get local artists included in the national Women to Watch show. She said the statewide show is one way to push against gender disparities in the art world.

“The goal is to amplify these voices. Not just with these five women artists, but to make the conversation grow to more than that,” she said. “All the women that are part of this project have a grassroots effect, a ripple effect by doing work like this. That’s how we as a small group can potentially have an impact on the larger whole.”

The committee, which is made up of women from across the state, sought out Jackson-based curator Tammi Hanawalt to nominate artists for the NMWA show. The committee was started by NMWA board member and Wyoming resident Lisa Claudy Fleischman, who passed away after a five-year battle with cancer in 2023.

“The catalog for the NMWA Women to Watch show will be dedicated in her honor,” said Brownfield. “That was done through fundraising efforts within Wyoming and the generosity of Wyoming folks who support this work.”

Wyoming Women to Watch will feature the work of Ortegon HighWalking, Laramie-based metalsmith Leah Hardy, Jackson-based painter Katy Ann Fox, Cheyenne-based installation artist Jennifer Rife and Jackson-based multimedia artist Bronwyn Minton. After its stop in Jackson, the exhibition will then travel to the Ucross Foundation in northeastern Wyoming.

“Because we wish to support these artists with sales, the works that will be in this exhibition and following locations may differ slightly from exhibition to exhibition,” said Brownfield.

The exhibit is on display at the Shari Brownfield Fine Art Gallery in Jackson until May 14. An opening reception was held on Wednesday, March 13.

Ortegon HighWalking performed two songs from her signature Black Light Jingle Dance piece during the event. There will also be a panel discussion with the show’s curator, three of the artists and members of the Wyoming Committee for NMWA.

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About Hannah Habermann

Hannah is a NOLS Instructor, writer, and co-creator of the KHOL podcast "Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole." In her free time, she loves watering her plants, doing the Sunday crossword, and jumping into cold bodies of water.

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