Tell Me A Story: Drawing Professor Gets Up Close and Personal for Commissioned Public Art Project
Park City, Utah: one of America’s wealthiest cities, backdrop for parts of the 1994 comedy classic Dumb and Dumber, and home to both the Sundance Film Festival and the United States Ski Team. Big things happen in this former mining town-turned tourist haven, but the real story of Park City lies behind all that, in the lives of its some 7,000 permanent residents.
Park City, Utah
No one knows this better than KCAD Drawing professor Danielle Wyckoff. Earlier this year, Wyckoff was commissioned to create an artwork for the newly renovated Park City Library that reflected the town’s natural beauty and community identity. And what better way to do that then go straight to the source.
Danielle Wyckoff poses next to "Surroundings," the installation she created for the Park City Library
To create her piece, titled “Surroundings,” Wyckoff collected stories from over 40 Park City residents and hand screen-printed the transcriptions on eight separate panels to form an image of the town’s mountain landscape.
"Collecting stories and translating spoken narratives into visual art has been a focus of my work for some time now,” said Wyckoff. “When I heard about this opportunity, I knew it was right up my alley; they were looking for a piece that not only referred to information gathering and the dynamic landscape and changing seasons of Park City, but one that involved the community as well.”
(above): Park CIty Library Patrons check out "Surroundings;" (below): Wyckoff puts the finishing touches on lighting for the installation
The ethnographic research component of her proposal helped Wyckoff earn the commission, as did her previous involvement in Park City’s arts community. She first visited the town in 2011 for a six-week residency at Spiro Arts, and again in 2012 to help mentor emerging artists through a project at the Kimball Art Center.
Pulling off “Surroundings,” however, required a much broader engagement with the local community. Wyckoff spent most of this spring trying to convince anyone and everyone in Park City to tell her a story.
“I spoke at a City Council meeting, was interviewed on two radio shows, solicited stories through Facebook and email, distributed postcards, and just walked around on foot with a portable recorder talking to anybody who’d give me the time of day,” she said. ”I even went to the Park City Museum and found written accounts from miners who were here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
Wyckoff on the air at a Park City radio station to promote her project
Then came the challenge of distilling those stories down into a digestible artistic format. To do so, Wyckoff turned to printmaking, a medium she’s well versed in and one that has always had communication at its core. Much like the some of the first printmakers – early Buddhists who used text and images to disperse their religious ideas – Wyckoff used the medium to illuminate the human experience of the people she interviewed.
(above and below): Wyckoff began the piece by plotting a grid of mountainous forms on paper, using photos of Park City's surrounding mountain landscape as inspiration
“I learned so much from just hanging out and connecting with people that I could have never learned any other way,” she said. “It’s really the collective experiences of a community that define it more than anything else.”
“Surroundings” stands as Wyckoff’s most ambitious artistic undertaking to date. She enlisted the help of KCAD alum Anthony Meade (’10, Printmaking), who’s also a member of Grand Rapids printmaking collective Dinderbeck, in preparing and transporting the various components of the piece. This kind of commissioned work always presents interesting challenges, especially given the long-distance nature of the project.
(above): Wyckoff and Meade assembling "Surroundings" in the studio here in Grand Rapids; (below): Meade joined Wyckoff on a road trip out West to install the piece at the Park City Library
“I was really forced out of my comfort zone because of all of the logistical business aspects of doing commissioned work on this scale; I had to get insurance for liabilities, negotiate and notarize a very detailed contract, plan and execute a budget, and transport the panels myself by driving from Michigan to Utah,” she said. “It was stressful but extremely valuable, because you have to recognize that being a professional artist involves a lot more beyond the creative process. I’m excited to bring what I’ve learned into the Professional Practices classes I teach at KCAD.”
Still, the surest measure of an artist’s ‘success’ is their ability to engage people with their work, to provoke some sort of reaction or thought on the part of the viewer. As Wyckoff stood inside the Park City Library for the unveiling of “Surroundings,” the expressions of joy, contemplation, and wonder on people’s faces as they examined the piece were well worth all of her hard work.
Wyckoff transcribed all of the interviews she conducted by hand before screen printing the written accounts onto the final piece
“I felt so privileged that all these people opened up their lives up to me and shared their stories. It’s such an honor to know that the piece was so well received and that it will be in the library permanently, so there will be this constant exchange as new people will continue to interact with it,” she said. “To me, engaging the community is what public art is all about.”
See more of Danielle Wyckoff’s work at daniellewyckoff.com.