Painting the Soul of Yellowstone’s Wildlife
“I’m so glad you’re here!” DG House exclaims, welcoming me into her Bozeman, Montana studio. Her warmth and enthusiasm is infectious, and she invites me to sit on a comfy couch, where we talk about her artwork, and her upcoming residency with Yellowstone National Park Lodges.
The floor is lined with paintings—a blue bear, a red buffalo, a blue and white bald eagle, and a host of other Yellowstone animals—standing together in neat stacks against the wall. There’s an energy here, as if the spirits of the animals are only momentarily frozen in place on the canvas. The effect is deliberate, says DG. “It’s the light… a turn of the head, a flicker of the eye, the way the paw comes up…that captures the moment for me,” she says. “I paint from real experience; every painting I do is from an encounter in the park.”
Yellowstone is integral to DG’s evolution as an artist, as well as a primary subject of her work. She came to Yellowstone to work as a housekeeper in 1981, a summer job she found on a poster in the University of Dayton financial aid office. She recalls driving out with her boyfriend in a blue Pinto station wagon, armed with duffel bags and Jimmy Buffet tapes. They arrived early in the season, when most of the park was still closed to tourists. “I had never seen anything like it, done anything like it,” DG says.
She describes hiking every day after work and backpacking on the weekends, reminiscing about her first wildlife encounters, the feeling of being in deep wilderness, and meeting people from all over the world. “It completely changed my life,” she says.
DG’s path to fine art was a circuitous one. After traveling back and forth between Ohio and Yellowstone for several seasons, and studying an eclectic range of subjects in college (including forensic pathology, wildlife biology, and art) she moved to Bozeman and settled into a professional photography career, documenting wildlife in Yellowstone, rock and roll concerts, and sports.
Although she had grown up making art and studying it in school, she didn’t realize she could be a full-time artist. “There was no blueprint,” she says. “I didn’t even know you could be a wildlife artist and make a living. How would I? No one around me was doing it.” But in 1995 she felt she had said all she could through photography. “I can’t get it in a photograph…the raw emotion of being [in Yellowstone]. It’s a fundamentally deep human experience, to be in wilderness…everything disappears. And your sense of reality and what’s important all comes back. That’s not hyperbole, that’s not overstating it.”
So DG started over. All those years exploring different interests gave her the tools – anatomy, wildlife behavior, painting, and composition and lighting from photography—to forge a new path in painting and printmaking. “I had worked in the predominant culture my whole career, and I wanted to do something in my own culture…and I wanted a blue bear. Blue is the soul of the bear to me. I wanted a red buffalo. I wanted you to feel the power of it, the soul of it, I wanted to connect with it.”
Today, DG’s work is collected on every continent on the planet, and has been exhibited in prestigious museums such as the Eiteljorg Museum of Indians and Western Art, the CM Russell Museum, and the Phippen Museum of Art. She’s been a guest American Indian artist in Grand Teton National Park for 21 years. Still, DG’s heart remains in Yellowstone, where she will be artist in residence at Yellowstone National Park Lodges for the first time this summer.
You can find DG at Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and the Old Faithful Inn (see dates below), where she will paint live at her mobile studio, and talk with hotel guests and visitors. “I love talking with people” she says. “My job in the park… is to give voice to the wildlife and even the native people who don’t have the predominant voice, but it’s also just as important for me to remind you of how you feel when you are there. So I’m working for wildlife, I’m working for native people, but I’m also working for you. So when you go back home…all those feelings come back. That’s my job.”
DG’s original paintings—including the exclusive Yellowstone National Park Lodges Blue Bear Collection—as well as prints, notecards, and limited edition collectibles will be available in the gift stores at each location.
Jenny Golding is a former director of education for Yellowstone Forever. She currently runs the website A Yellowstone Life, and writes from her home in Gardiner, Montana, on the border of Yellowstone National Park.