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Resounds: Neltje Tribute

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courtesy Neltje, 2017
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Neltje

Resounds is paying tribute to Neltje, an artist, writer, philanthropist, and a dear friend we had the pleasure of interviewing in 2017.

At age 86, the artist known simply by her first name leaves a legacy of artistic goodness following her death on April 30, 2021 at her ranch in Banner, Wyoming. Her contributions to the region’s artistic world are immense, including the founding of Jentle Foundation, a writing and artistic retreat set at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains.

Upon Neltje's passing, her Sheridan County ranch was gifted to the University of Wyoming, to become the Neltje Center for Contemporary Visual and Literary Arts – the largest private gift in UW’s history.

In 2005, Neltje was recognized as one of Wyoming’s pre-eminent artists with the Governor’s Arts Award, and her work has been featured in collections at the Smithsonian, the Yellowstone Art Museum and Kirks’ Grocery in Billings, the IBM Corp. in Denver, the UW Art Museum and the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, among others. In addition, her work is in private collections in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

She was instrumental in saving the historic Sheridan Inn from demolition and renovating the property for public use, and gave generously to the community of Sheridan through her work with the YMCA, the local hospital, Sheridan College, and others.

In her later years, Neltje lived an artistic but quiet life in the Big Horns painting. In May 2020 she had a solo show open at the YAM, a crown on her lifetime of artistic achievements, featuring nearly 40 paintings — some upwards of 30 feet long and 10 feet high of flowers that bloom across her Wyoming property. The abstract paintings celebrated the vivid color of flowers, from what she described as the “outrage of tulips” to the deep blue of delphiniums to the blazing reds and oranges of flowering plants nestled among the gardens of her mountain home.

These huge, vivid works busting with color and shape, are a celebration and culmination of her talents as an abstract expressionist painter.

Not one to just paint pretty pictures, Neltje’s exhibit also featured a series from 2016 created after the presidential election. The exhibition, postponed due to covid, was opened May 2020 and extended to October.

We interviewed Neltje in 2017 as her memoir “North of Crazy” was released. The memoir is a frank and passionate chronicle of her extraordinary life, that discusses her troubled childhood and early life, but also her joy finding her place living and working in Northern Wyoming.

Neltje isn’t shy about her past and dives right in to discuss the reasons she was called to write a memoir, including the sexual abuse that she endured as a child.

Here’s the interview, originally recorded in May 2017, with an updated introduction by Anna and Corby.

Anna Paige is a poet and educator and co-founder of Billings Area Literary Arts, created from a desire to connect writers to one another and grow the literary community of Billings.
Corby Skinner is an independent marketing professional with an enormous capacity for assessing issues and creating positive, effective messages.