SHERIDAN — Over the course of her 30-plus year career, Sheridan resident Carrie Ballantyne has developed into one of the most acclaimed and widely-known western artists in the county. Despite living in the Sheridan region for more than 25 years, though, her work has never been exhibited locally.
That changed when The Brinton Museum decided to host a retrospective of Ballantyne’s career, titled “Carrie Ballantyne Comes Home,” which runs through July 15. The Brinton’s director and chief curator, Ken Schuster, said he has been trying to host an exhibition of Ballantyne’s work since at least the 1990s, but the plan was constantly running into obstacles.
With the plan finally coming to fruition, though, Schuster said he was excited to feature one of the region’s most celebrated artists.
“Her work is collected on each coast, and basically anybody who is really serious about collecting western art knows who Carrie Ballantyne is,” Schuster said. “She is highly respected and highly regarded…And what I hope people will take away from this exhibit is, Carrie Ballantyne is one of our own. Her career really developed out of the Sheridan area.”
To provide an overview of Ballantyne’s career, The Brinton’s curator of exhibitions and museum education, Barbara McNab, worked with Ballantyne to select pieces that best exemplified her progression as an artist. Sometimes that meant having to locate where those pieces had ended up.
“When I was a young artist starting out, I didn’t keep real good records and so it was hard to track down some of these pieces,” Ballantyne admitted. “The museum was really, really good about contacting all of the different lenders from around the U.S.”
The pieces also demonstrate a progression in the materials Ballantyne used to create her portraits. Starting out, Ballantyne worked strictly with graphite pencil. After about 10 years, she started using colored pencils and, after working with colored pencils for 15 years, has worked with oil paints for the last 12 years, though she said she’s starting to dabble in graphite again.
The decisions to change materials throughout her career were mostly prompted by changes in her lifestyle, she said. Early in her career, Ballantyne explained she was balancing art with caring for her family and raising three children, so her art time was limited.
Ballantyne said, because the exhibit is displayed locally, she also wanted to included pieces from the Sheridan region.
“Local people will recognize some of the people that are in this show,” Ballantyne said.
McNab added that the show also features 12 new pieces that Ballantyne created specifically for her exhibition at The Brinton.
Though Ballantyne’s art has evolved through her career, her work has primarily centered on highly-detailed and realistic portraits of residents of the Western United States.
Growing up, Ballantyne said she drew people and places in her life, but when she got to junior high she discovered early black-and-white photographs of American Indians and drew portraits from those pictures. Soon, she began to take her own photographs and draw based on those, a practice she has continued throughout her career.
And through her career, her interest in creating detailed portraits has not waned.
“Well, I think it’s just the way I’m wired,” Ballantyne said. “Portraiture is a human landscape. I’m just really drawn to portraying the human landscape and capturing the soul, the particular essence of the individual. And I think that’s because I’m so interested in everybody’s story.”
Her fascination with the West started at a young age, also. Ballantyne said she was always drawn to westerns growing up in Southern California and was especially interested in horses and horseback riding. When she was 18, she moved to Wyoming to work for game outfitters and on dude ranches so she could work near horses. She never left, and she’s found people throughout the region to be compelling subjects for her artwork.
In selecting the subjects of her portraits, Ballantyne admitted that she is drawn to a particular look.
“The subjects that I find are attractive. They’re not necessarily Cover Girl or GQ attractive, but my women are feminine, and my men are masculine and handsome,” Ballantyne said. “I tend towards a natural beauty in my women, and I tend towards a ruggedness in my men.”
She added, though, that she has always been particularly interested in depicting members of the working class.
“I love texture; I love the texture in different fabrics, different raw materials, and I like texture in skin and face,” Ballantyne said. “So I don’t go for perfection. I want to see subtle imperfections in my people and create beauty with that.”
Finally, after decades as an artist, her friends and neighbors will get to experience that beauty in Ballantyne’s first local exhibition.