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SHERIDAN — Looking out the window of the Writer’s Cabin watching the Clear Creek roll on, Catherine Chung spotted a bald eagle fly by, landing for a moment in her view.
The author of “Forgotten Country” is taking a break from everyday life in New York City to work on her second novel and the these moments of serenity in Wyoming inspire and revive her as she works.
Chung is one of the artists currently in residency at the Ucross Foundation who opened her space and gave her time during the first ever Open Studios event on Saturday.
The Ucross Foundation was founded in 1981 with the primary objective to restore the Historic Powder River Basin headquarters of the Pratt and Ferris Cattle Company and promote the preservation of other historic sites in the area.
The Foundation accepted its first resident artists in 1983 offering them the gift of time and space to focus on their work in art, music, literature and natural sciences.
The historic Ucross School House and the Clearmont Train Depot — which was moved to the foundation’s property in 1988 — were renovated and now house the visitors with four bedrooms, a dining and living room and a main kitchen where a professional chef prepares lunch and dinner five days a week.
With the exception of the Big Red Complex, which includes the public art gallery, the majority of the property is normally closed to only the artists and staff. But on Saturday, Ucross opened all of its door to the public for an intimate behind-the-scenes look at where their visitors sleep, work and play.
Ucross has provided time and space to a plethora of talented artists through the years who used the opportunity to produce award winning works of art.
Adam Guettel — grandson of Richard Rodgers from The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization who owns the rights to some of the most popular stage and film musicals, including “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and more — composed the score of “The Light in the Piazza” at Ucross and went on to win Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations in 2005.
His were two of many awards won for work completed at the foundation including seven Pulitzer Prize winning authors, four Tony award winning musicians, five MacArthur foundation “Genius” Fellowship recipients and four PEN/Faulkner Award winners.
In fact the 2014 Tony Awards were hosted Sunday evening and yet another artist was added to this list as “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” with music and lyrics written by Steven Lutvak at Ucross was nominated for Best Original Score and won the top spot of Best Musical.
Chung says a lot is possible while in residency because the artists work from sun up until day’s end.
“There are no distractions here, other than stalking the wildlife,” Chung said. “But it’s also just nice when you’re so deep in words to look out the window and realize the real world is still going on.”
The property of the Ucross Foundation houses eight main buildings.
The Ranch House and the Big Red Barn are known as the Big Red Complex and are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The more often visited buildings of the foundation, the Ranch House serves as the administrative offices and houses the Alkire Library and the Big Red Barn houses the public art gallery as well as event and meeting space.
Kocur Writer’s Retreat hosts two writing studios in a quiet corner of the land and is where Chung and fellow artist in residency Stephen O’Connor are currently writing.
Elizabeth Gilbert worked on her international best-selling novel “Eat Pray Love” in Kocur in 2004.
Rock Studios is the name of the three buildings that comprise the four visual art studios and one printmaking studio.
Named as such for the stonework on the exterior — done by Bob Hruza of Tongue River Masonry — these large studios are cleaned and repainted inside after each artist leaves, offering the newcomer a clean slate to create.
Jessie’s Hideout was the first formal music studio at Ucross and is now a companion to Jessie’s 2.
The music cabin houses a baby grand piano thanks to a donation in 2007, replacing an ancient upright piano that was moved to Buck’s Cabin.
Buck’s Cabin serves as the recreation area for the residents, located in the yard of their housing quarters.
The cabin was empty Saturday and seemed to have been so for a while but if the artists were to find themselves with free time they could watch movies, play a game of pool or ping pong, or sing along to piano music on one of the instruments in the room.
Bucks, the residence hall of the Depot and the living room and dining space of the School House are set a short drive up Highway 14 from the main campus of workspaces and residents are given the use of bicycles to get around.
The Alliance for Historic Wyoming partnered with the Ucross Foundation on Saturday to offer tours at the Ranch at Ucross and two other surrounding places on the National Registry of Historic Places.
AHW Executive Director Carly-Ann Anderson said the alliance was eager for the partnership as Ucross shows not only that historic buildings can be refurbished, but that they can be useful as well.
“If you can bring a historic building like this back, you can bring anything back,” she said standing in the Big Red Barn. “It shows people not to look at these historic places as old junk because they did not just refurbish it, but they’re utilizing it.”
AHW has not previously worked with Ucross but paired the remaining locations for the historic tour with them based not only on proximity but also building material.
Kearney Hall, the Rule Barn and the Ranch at Ucross all house a unique building trend seen in the valley, stone buildings including stone barns.
The Ranch at Ucross houses a stone barn and shed both built by master stonemason Pete Hermanon of Buffalo.
The Rule Ranch started with a horse barn and proceeded to expand to a two-story home, a tenant house and a loafing shed, all made of sandstone from the nearby hills.
Anderson says it is common to see building trends in geographic areas such as the valley surrounding Ucross though they are not sure what sparked the stone building trend.
Records reported in “Architecture in the Cowboy State, 1849-1940” indicate that several Swedish stonemasons were working in the Piney Creel and Powder River areas in the early 1900s but more investigation is needed to determine why there were so many in Sheridan County.
For more information see www.historicwyoming.org or www.ucrossfoundation.org.
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