Neltje shows photographer Lindsay Linton Buk her work. Linton Buk featured Neltje in her project "Women in Wyoming."

Did one of your kid’s drawings ever make it from the fridge to being framed in a place of honor on your wall? Do you enjoy your morning coffee from a Red Bison Studio mug? Did a photograph or a painting at a SAGE Community Art exhibition follow you home?

Artists in our community change the way we respond to our environment. Their art has the transformative power to make us feel, see and experience our surroundings in different ways. As we change, so does our response and pleasure in seeing or using the artwork. The response lives beyond the artist.

Each morning for the past 30-plus years, I roll over and sit on the edge of my bed to see a monoprint I have from when I was still living in Laramie. As with all of us as we look back on three plus decades, plenty of life happens. And over the years, plenty has influenced the way I see and feel the color, the shapes, the marks, the textures, the energy and the life in the print.

As an artist who makes visual stories in my work, the abstract monoprint has challenged my sense of appreciation and understanding. The process of discovery and exploring has been a rich one. But one morning several weeks ago, I awoke bereft that the artist who made the print was no longer with us in our community. The intense color palette of the print was now bittersweet.

Have you ever enjoyed an evening at SAGE when a cohort from the Jentel Artist Residency shared their images, writing and creative process? Have you ever participated in a collage workshop with Neltje? Did your third-grader ever score a visit to Neltje’s home and studio through the Living with Art program? Did you ever enjoy a dinner or hang out at the bar at the Sheridan Inn? Did your cousin benefit from the resources at the Women’s Center? Did your family find job security through one of the employers located at Sheridan Gateway? Did you ever watch your daughter at a rodeo event at the Sheridan College AgriPark? Did something in Neltje’s memoir inspire you or give you the confidence to stand up for yourself?

While Neltje certainly is back in that wonderful place where she was before she arrived on this planet, she leaves a legacy that benefits our community in many more ways imaginable and in too many ways to list here. However, while she leaves wild and wonderful memories (and we do have stories!), she leaves a sadness surrounding many hearts.

Tuck your mourning and sorrow in your back pocket for a few hours of comfort and join family and friends of Neltje for a celebration of a most extraordinary life at Kinnison Hall in the Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College June 12 from 11-11:30 a.m. followed by reception in the Atrium.

Mary Jane Edwards is executive director of Jentel Foundation. 

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