AoR 62: Ashley Hibbard, Artistry on the Range

Ashley Hibbard may seem an unlikely rancher, but she may do more to change minds about ranching than most who seem more likely advocates. Ashley, who astute listeners will remember from the Women in Ranching Forum from SRM's 2020 annual meeting, runs an artist-in-residency program on the Sieben Live Stock Company home place in central Montana. Good art can bypass bad logic, and the beauty of ranching done well affects even those who think ranching is detrimental to both humans and the planet. Listen to Ashley tell her story in this interview.


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range. A podcast focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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My guest today on the Art of Range is Ashley Wertheimer Hibbard, who faithful listeners will have heard from the Women in Ranching Forum from the 2020 SRM meeting in Denver. I was intrigued by the Artist in Residency program she hosts at the Sieben Livestock Company, home place in central Montana between Helena and Great Falls. So I asked if we could do an interview on site at the ranch. And we're recording today in person at her place in Montana. Ashley, welcome to the show.

>> Hi. Thanks for having me.

>> You have a program here called AIR SEVEN, named, I assume, after the ranch name, which is the German name for the number seven. The website says that the residency was created with the intention of bringing two worlds together. That it's intended to be both a cultural immersion, presumably for some folks who have no experience with ranching, and an educational platform that can enrich both the lives of artist and rancher. I want to come back to that. But first, tell me a bit about your pathway to becoming an artist who is also a rancher. I love that combination. Tell me how that came about.

>> Well, I never sought ranching. The lifestyle kind of found me. I've always been an artist. Been-- I used to draw as a little girl, I used to paint, I took classes as a young child and throughout high school. And then I went on to study art and design in college. And it was there that I subsequently met a cowboy. And I had never met a cowboy. I had never interacted with a rancher or had previously known anything about ranching. And it was through Cooper that I came to know this lifestyle and this culture. And I-- but I can't say that I sought it for myself, it just kind of happened naturally. And after years of being together, it was just very clear that my passions coincide beautifully with the ranching lifestyle. But yeah, I can't say that I actually grew up thinking about ranching. Though, I was around horses. And I was around wannabe cowboys. But it was never integrated into my lifestyle. You know, I came out for the first time I visited Cooper's family in the ranch in 2008. And it was there that I realized like wow, I have never been exposed to such vast landscape to... cattle, to that capacity, to sheep grazing in open range. I'd never seen it, being from Los Angeles area. And it was just mind-blowing to me. And yeah. It's affected my life, it's affected my art. And it's been integrated into what I do professionally.

>> Yeah, this part of the world really epitomizes the idea of wide open spaces. You know, specifically the broad valleys and the mountains that kind of point back to the sky. You know, they call it big sky country because it just has that look about it where it doesn't feel closed in.

>> That's right.

>> What is an artist in residency program? I'm guessing this is a new phrase to most of the listeners to the Art of Range.

>> Yeah. It's basically a program, usually funded by an institution or you know, it could be a non-profit or a for-profit program, that enables an artist to leave their normal day-to-day and their environment to then have exclusive time and space to work on their body of artwork. It's almost like a mini graduate program where you're just immersing yourself entirely into your work. And they're all over the world. I have participated as an artist in a couple different ones. One, in particular, the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. That program is for 50 plus artists at a time. Just as an example. And they would host you, feed you, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's also an opportunity in various programs to have lecturers and artist professionals come and speak with the artists and do individual one-on-one critiques of their work. And to just discuss art in general. And the program that I'm doing is not nearly as elaborate, it's much more-- it's very small. I mean my vision is to simply have like one to four artists per summer come out and they come out for a month and same idea in mind where they're just coming out to work exclusively on their work. And you know, it doesn't necessarily relate to ranching. But it's through coming here and staying here that they're just automatically exposed to the life. But overall, it's a program to enable artists to leave their day-to-day, to immerse themselves in their work.

>> Yeah, so most programs wouldn't have an explicit or specific connection to the physical place that they're in. Except insofar that, you know, the institution that's hosting it, you know, is somewhere but not necessarily in a specific physical environment.

>> Sure. There are a few programs that I know of in the United States that are affiliated with ranching and ranches that have a funding platform to sponsor it. And they are really trying to focus on integrating the artist with the landscape. And it was definitely through seeing these locations-- or just discovering them online, I should say, that I found inspiration in trying to do the same thing here. And you know, when I first came out, the ambition was more catered toward the artist. You know? Wow, how interesting to have a space where artists can just be in nature surrounding by such a vast landscape that no doubt they also had never been around before. But, over time, it has also just very much been focused on the rancher. And how people in this particular culture that I live in, and the surrounding community, had never had access to this type of artwork. And so, it ends up becoming like very much a mutualistic... platform for people to share ideas, basically.

>> Right.

>> Yeah.

>> I meant to ask you a minute ago how you became an artist, we got stuck on how you became a rancher. Reminds me of the Chris LeDoux song, once you catch a cowboy, what are you going to do with it? But how did you become an artist? I have a couple daughters that are into art. And are good at painting and drawing, remarkably good, and just have a natural ability. But that's something different than, you know, eventually calling yourself an artist and doing something with it, you know, semi-professionally. How did that happen?

>> Well, I've always been-- I'll start from childhood. I was always an awkward child who wanted to spend time alone drawing. Just all day. And coincidentally, I would draw horses all the time. Even though I had no direct connection to the-- a lifestyle with horses. But that is what I would draw constantly. I would just sit in my room, sit by myself at an airport, in a park, at school. I would just constantly doodle. I'd draw on my hands. I would draw anywhere. I'd draw on the wall and get in big trouble for it. And it was just impossible for me to not draw. Endless amounts of sketchbooks. And so my parents were really helpful in cultivating that within me. They were always very supportive. Boosting my ego as a little kid and how good I was as an artist. And on top of it, I just loved it. So--.

>> That's unique. Because there's plenty of--

>> Definitely.

>> --parents who feel like in order to be practical, they need to discourage art.

>> Right. And I have plenty, I grew up with plenty of friends who had that upbringing. Where they were musicians or artists who were then persuaded to pursue med school, or you know, something.

>> Anything but art.

>> Anything but art. I was very fortunate that my parents were very-- had always been supportive. I think what their vision was for me was more, you know, animation or computer graphics or graphic design. Which I do freelance. But... You know, what I actually do now is I make abstract paintings and I also work with yarn and I make these abstract, large-scale yarn-filled, strange pieces. And my dad just looks at it and he's like I don't get it, what happened. You know? Where did we go with this? But yeah. I went to college and I studied art and design, focusing on painting. Focusing on the theory of art. And it's just stuck with me as something I have to do. I'm just... It's in my blood, yeah. And there's just no way around it for me. And I knew it was always something I would pursue to some capacity. Yeah.

>> Yeah. Back to the artist in residency program. You said that it's meant to be both a cultural immersion and an educational platform. Now you talked a bit about cultural immersion, but say a little bit more about those two concepts. I'm guessing many of the people that come don't previous-- they're not coming here because they love ranching. They're here coming because they're artists.

>> Absolutely. It's true, most of the people who come here, and so far, they're mostly from my network of artists that I know. Partly because just-- how convenient it is to have someone that you trust already come out here. We're already so remote, so it's convenient to know that it's someone you can trust. So. And you're right, they're not necessarily coming out here to, I can't wait to learn about ranching. But-- inevitably, through being here, I try to provide opportunities for the employees and the artist to interact. And over time, I would like it to be more of an actually like participation, where they're working to some capacity, but it's, you know, it's a challenge because it's also, you know, a little bit of babysitting. But, really it's just exposure to a complete different way of life and a different way of thinking. Because most people who pursue ranching as a lifestyle and who pursue being an artist as a lifestyle in an urban setting, I should say, don't necessarily share the same values. Don't come from the same background. And you know, I'm stereotyping here, but it's just this is the case. This tends to be the case.

>> Stereotypes exist for a reason.

>> Right. And especially because the artists I am bringing here are from different backgrounds. They're not from ranching. Yeah. So, for instance, I've had several artists from Brooklyn, New York come out here and we'll have dinner together with some of the employees. And the conversations are... absolutely amazing. I mean we're talking about racism and we're talking about social class. And we're talking about access to museums and like actors that people grow up knowing, just by proxy of living in a city. Our lifestyles couldn't be more different. And I'm grouping myself in that. I come from southern California where you go to the airport and you're like oh, there's Halle Berry! You know? And it's just different. It's just a different lifestyle. And so the conversation's really rich there. I mean that's just-- it's a minor example, right? But--

>> Yeah, you've got two worlds colliding.

>> Right.

>> And hopefully it's productive rather than destructive.

>> It's so productive. And it's been some of the more rewarding conversations I've ever witnessed. I'm sure, you know, maybe it's out of luck that they've been so productive, I'm sure there will be ample opportunity for some tough conversations. But thus far, it's just been wow, I've never met someone who doesn't agree with me on this, this, and this. And here we are drinking a beer and enjoying each other's time and company. And that's just talking about life. That's not talking about art or ranching. That's just talking about life. And then there's also the component of sharing what you do with your time, making artwork versus stewarding the land and animals. And how similar those two actually are. I also-- I have an art-- the artist will have an art show at the end of their residency.

>> Here.

>> Here. And so, all the employees will come. And we also have seasonal workers from Mexico, five of them. Two have been coming-- this will be their 22nd year here. And I mean, they're like family. And so they'll participate as well. And it is-- the questions they ask are so fun. I mean, because they're-- there was one artist I had here who worked with fabric. And made these strange assemblages that would hang-- she had hanging from trees and I invited the artist to come up. And some of the kids were like where's the art? I don't understand? Where is it?

>> They're looking for a painting.

>> Yeah, they're looking for a painting. And they're looking for a painting of a landscape or a painting-- because that's what they think art is, you know? Because it is. But, you know, in these instances, it's an opportunity to inform these kids that art is so much more than painting. It can be. And the conversation around it is so much more-- can be so much more deeper than perhaps they had originally assumed. And you know, sometimes they look at the work, they're like I don't get it at all. But cool! You know? Sometimes it's as simple as that. And it's just been really, really a great opportunity for both, I think, artist and rancher for that reason.

>> Yeah, I'm hearing pretty significant, you know, two-way influence.

>> Sure.

>> That is pretty cool. I think good art, like a good book, which is probably a form of art, doesn't reveal everything at the first contemplation.

>> Sure.

>> And that's probably, you know, not just-- I think that's not an accident and good artists maybe intuitively, you know, build that in. But that's something that's a learning curve for people that are not familiar with art. They want to see something that's, you know, immediately representative. Or you know, you look at it and you say well that's a-- someone did a great job, you know, reproducing this particular--

>> Sure.

>> --mountain, or something. And used-- the extent to which, or the degree to which something like a painting accurately reproduces what you see with your eyes as being evidence of good art.

>> Absolutely.

>> But good art is quite a bit more deep than that.

>> Well said. That's exactly it. I mean, something I'm up against too as an artist living in this culture, too, is perhaps this need to, quote, "prove" that I am a good artist? Whatever that means. Because the work I'm choosing to make isn't reproducing something that is very tangible for most people to understand. You know? Replicating a mountain, for instance. Because you're right, a lot of people, with they think of, like, oh, that person's a good artist. It's because they're able to render something as being so realistic or relatable. And there's nothing wrong with that, and it's something that I do enjoy doing to some capacity. But it is interesting to show someone within this community the work that these residents will make, and often they're like okay, I don't get it? That's interesting. But, it's a challenge, you know? And I can say it's actually, from the opposite viewpoint, someone who's from, you know, an outsider of ranching, you could talk about grazing management and planning for-- seasonal grazing and planning for next year's rotation, and all these future plants that the artist would have a very hard time seeing because it's just not tangible and you're not seeing it right then and there. Maybe instead, you're seeing a seemingly overgrazed pasture, when really it's something that had been intensively grazed in that moment.

>> Right.

>> And they just left. Right. They just left that morning, and so they're like oh gosh, how is that going to affect-- right.

>> And you say come look at it in May.

>> Yeah, exactly. So, it's similar. You know? The process is similar, in a lot of ways.

>> Yeah, that was part of the reason for the title of the podcast, the Art of Range. The idea that, you know, classically art was the application of, you know, some skill or trade. You know, beyond just doing works of art, like we think of art now. But we speak of practicing medicine or practicing law. And those are things that have, you know, science and logic behind them. But the doing of it requires something quite a bit more than just having a grasp of some of the facts behind medicine. And I really-- lots of people have said that that is why range livestock management is both an art and a science. There are--

>> Sure.

>> You know, immutable, physical laws that are behind how plants grow and how animals respond to things, but how we manage it and what we do with it requires something more than just having access to some of those facts.

>> Right. Yeah, it's like an innate understanding.

>> Things that you learned by doing. You know, one of the analogies I've used is driving a semi. You know, you could have people who could take the test to get their commercial driver's license. And could have all kinds of head knowledge about driving a truck. But actually driving the truck, you know, say over a mountain pass, fully loaded, is something totally different than just knowing how to do that.

>> Sure.

>> The doing of it is something much more significant and tangible and valuable. And I see that in the world of ranching. You mentioned that artists often aren't coming here to paint the landscape. But how many people do you get that come that are then inspired by the landscape or the beauty of animal husbandry and incorporate that into their art once they've arrived?

>> That's a good question. I would say that everyone I've invited here has integrated the landscape and their perception of this experience to some capacity into what they're working on. It's inevitable. I mean, the vastness, the beauty, and the actual process of caring for the land and animals. It's been-- it's very clearly impacts what these artists choose to make. And that can be-- because I was saying before, they're not necessarily painting something from reality. Sometimes they're just-- they're working with fabric, they're working with scraps of paint. But not necessarily painting in the way that we normally view it. And yet, there's still... Choosing to incorporate the land in what they're doing. So, for instance, I've had an artist choose to put her fabric out in the landscape, interacting with the trees, interacting with the wind, interacting with the deer that would then trample it intentionally. Or she would have that be an intentional outcome. There's one expectation we have out here, and that's artists are expected to mow the lawn for the home in which they're staying. Not all artists have ever mowed a lawn.

>> Wow. Yeah.

>> And they actually don't know how to do it. And they're teaching them how to do it. I had one artist make these circles where they left circles of unmowed grass? So that you can interact with the grass. Which was very irksome to Chase and, you know, like ah! My lawn! What have you done! But it just became part of her work.

>> Artistic expression.

>> Yes. And I found that to be so, so clever and so interesting.

>> You could mow different heights, you could leave--

>> Exactly.

>> -- flowers, instead of--

>> Right.

>> Taking it out.

>> Exactly. It became part of her system, part of her process to choose what to eliminate and what to keep. You know, just it's inevitable is what I can say to that. It's very clearly impacted what they do. And they leave blown away by the landscape and they're very sad to leave, every time. Yeah. Yeah.

>> I love that example. Because it also challenges, you know, our ideas of what a lawn is supposed to be.

>> Sure.

>> You know, we have this idea that a person's lawn should look like an English manor. Which probably, ironically, only got that way because they were all occupied by sheep.

>> Fascinating, that's so true.

>> Which kept it closely cropped. They didn't have lawnmowers in 1700.

>> Right.

>> It was graze by sheep and that's what kept it neat and clean. And relatively uniform in height. That's, yeah, kind of a funny tie-in.

>> That is funny, yeah.

>> I had another question I think you already answered. You mentioned painting horses. You know, it's been said, I think it often gets attributed to Winston Churchill, but I think it pre-dated him. The saying that there's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man. I think there's also something about being immersed in a ranching landscape which is a pretty unique hybrid of a wild and a, you know, a built environment. That is grounding for a person's soul. If we were to ask 100 people what 10 words come to mind when they think of artists, you know, grounded probably isn't on that list. They typically are the ones who are ungrounded, that have their head in the clouds. Which also enables people to think outside of the box a little bit. And some of that is pretty beneficial. I've been-- I've witnessed some of the experiences like what you've described where somebody who's never, ever been a part of ranching is, I guess, immersed in it for the first time. You know, comes to see it for the first time. And is extremely moved by the beauty of it. And ranching is something significantly different from farming. And I don't have any desire to throw crop farmers under the bus. But it's just a whole different world. You know, when you, if you plant a corn field, you can't do it without obliterating whatever was there before the corn field. And I feel like I say this all the time. But it's worth repeating. That, you know, ranching is really one of the only livelihoods where we have this interdependence between man and nature. You know, where we're essentially deliberately leaving nature intact and trying to, you know, harvest just enough of it to keep livestock alive. But also maintain all these other ecosystem goods and services that we expect from, you know, a natural landscape. And once you plant corn, it's not a natural landscape. Which reminds me of a quote from Richard Knight. Richard Knight is a professor at Colorado State who quoted something from Wendell Berry at the Colorado Section Society for Range Management meeting. He was quoting from the work that I've not read before, but I'm going to have to look it up. He said "The most tragic--," this is the Wendell Berry quote. "The most tragic conflict in the history of conservation is that between environmentalists and the farmers and ranchers. It is tragic, but it is unnecessary. There is no unresolvable conflict here, but the conflict that exists can be resolved only on the basis of a common understanding of good practice. We need to study and foster the working models. Farms and ranches that are striving to bring economic practice into line with ecological reality. And local food economies in which consumers conscientiously support the best land stewardship." That's from a Wendell Berry work called "The Whole Horse." When I heard that, my instant reaction was that I really based a career on the truth of that quotation from Wendell Berry. And I'm more convinced now than I was 20 years ago when I started doing this, that that's the truth. And these are-- what he's describing is-- are pretty complex concepts. Not necessarily complicated, but complex and deep. And those kinds of ideas are sometimes best understood obliquely. You know? From an intellectual angle that isn't direct, you know? Not coming straight at it. And I think that art and this kind of immersion and real living things is perhaps a more effective way to get some of those ideas into people's bones than trying to talk about it objectively, you know, with the front of the brain. Trying to convince people. I'm curious, you've talked around that bit, but I'm curious about your thoughts on that and whether you see that happening in people that would otherwise feel pretty antagonistic towards ranching and ranchers and does that persist once they leave?

>> That's a great question. I have definitely seen that happen. I mean, they come here and they're so humbled by the work that is done here. It's work that they've never... been exposed to. It's hard work. And it's during the summer months that their exposure to this place happens. The summer months are longer days.

>> You're going dawn to dusk.

>> Yeah.

>> --happen during the summer.

>> It's physical. It's hard. It's hot days. And they see it and yeah. Humility sets in. It's just, it's inevitable. And I know I've used that word so many times, but it's... It's the exposure from one to the other that enables... Enables that kind of response. And yeah, when they leave, the experience thus far is that they then go on to talk about the importance of where their meat comes from and how they were raised, how they animals are raised. How the land is stewarded. And... I mean, this is a conversation that's brought out to other outsiders of the culture. And that, I think that is the ultimate reward for this program.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah. It's because without seeing it and without being immersed in it, it's really hard to understand. And yeah. So I think, you know, I've had a lot of artists actually go back into the world, into their social media and start following a lot of the same accounts that I would follow. And spread awareness about the importance of these topics. And I just think that yeah, that's the end goal there is to share the wealth. To share the knowledge. I hope I answered your question to some capacity.

>> I think so. Maybe more just a meditation than a direct question.

>> Yeah.

>> But speaking of wealth, I wanted to ask what are your goals for the program? Is the objective at all to make money or to make it pay for itself? I would guess that the primary goal is the experience of the people that are coming, but do they pay for that? Does that benefit you in any way other than, you know, having them go back different than they came in?

>> Thus far this program is a passion project. And I don't know what I want from it. Like you said, it is-- it is for the experience. But in terms of making money, you know, from a ranch business perspective, it's like yeah. That's-- that would be ideal. But that's not the purpose right now. Right now it is more just to bring people here for the experience. I'm not sure where it's going to go. I have looked into the possibility of incorporating my undergraduate university, which is Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, I've done some talking with the art department there and maybe there can be some connection? But again, it wouldn't be a money making experience, it would just be more of like a-- more structured program. But for now, it's-- I think it is just about the experience. And I have a hard time trying to... To make it a business platform and this experiential platform. So we'll see.

>> It seems like it'd be hard to hold those things in--

>> Yeah. Yeah.

>> Tension.

>> That's what I find. Definitely. And you know, I've only, I started doing this in 2018. And so it's fairly new, especially because of COVID, I didn't have any artist this last year. So, it's new. And a lot of it, too, is how much do I, how much do I want to-- you know, spend my time. Do I want it to be an annual thing or just in the summer? And so we'll see where it goes. Right now it's just a three month program in the summers. And it's nice to-- because it's seasonal for me, too, then. Yeah. So we'll see where it goes, yeah.

>> Yeah. To what extent are you engaged, or in what ways are you engaged with the artists that are here?

>> So I'll go and check in fairly regularly to ensure that they have what they need. Yeah, yeah, that they haven't gotten eaten by the lawnmower. You know, there's mice and critters and seeing that they have water and thus far there's not really been a telephone or internet where they stay. And that is hopefully going to change just to get some WiFi up there just for safety reasons, really. But yeah, so I'll go in and check in, usually daily, if not every other day. And it does take my time. But it's enjoyable. And it's not all day, it's just checking in. Kind of just managing. And also regulating, making sure they're mowing the lawn right, and you know, taking care of what they need to. But yeah. I think it's going to have to get a little more self sufficient here because I'm having a baby in July. And I'll have an artist there that month. And obviously, I will have my hands full. So that'll be the first time that I'll kind of let it run itself. So we'll see where it goes.

>> Yeah. I was just going to ask that question about that artist and it occurred to me to ask... I have the idea that likely the majority of people who come are female. Is that the case? Or have you had?

>> Yes, the majority are female. But I've had... I've had three male artists thus far. And one is a-- actually four. One is a videographer. And I've had a musician, a pianist come out. And a writer. And then also a sculptor, who... Part of what he was doing to help out with the landscape was to cut down some of the deadfall. And he ended up using that wood as his artwork. He would plane it and make these interesting shapes with it. And I found that to be really fascinating. But yeah, it's mostly female thus far. But and you know, it's a lot easier for the male artists to chum up with the employees here, naturally.

>> Yeah.

>> But we still have plenty of opportunity to interact both male and female. But I'd say the guys have an easier time, yeah.

>> How many of the employees are female? Because ranching is one of those jobs where most of the time, you're not relying on just brute physical strength, you know, it's skill.

>> Our only-- our full-time employees here are male, all of them. But their partners work part-time. And so it depends on the time of year, but usually we'll have at least two to three women working, whether it's helping out with riding or roping or branding. Or in my case, I work with the sheep. So, yeah. It's-- there's still plenty of interaction with women, too. But I think the majority of the interaction happens amongst the male employees and my male artists. Just coincidentally so far, but--

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah. But in terms of social engagement, too, if I'm there to help cultivate it, the women often feel a lot more comfortable integrating. But it's also just-- it's challenging when you're working all day to then find an opportunity, both artist and rancher, to make the time to then--

>> Have.

>> Yeah, interact. Right. Yeah. But it happens.

>> On the website, you say that the residency affords the artist time and space for focused studio work and experimentation with new ideas. Artists live and work in Jane's Cabins, a compound comprised of original homestead cabins built in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Who was Jane? And what's the connection to art?

>> Jane Goodsall Hibbard is Cooper, my husband's, grandmother. So she married Hank Hibbard, who was the son of A.T. Hibbard.

>> Was he the son of Henry?

>> He married Henry's daughter, Margaret, yes.

>> Got it.

>> I'm proud of myself for yeah, having that down. Yeah. So Jane was a force. And I feel so privileged that I got to meet her before she passed away in 2011. And she, oh wow, that woman was just such a force. And she had those cabins moved there in the location that it exists currently, and I-- I don't exactly know the story of where they originally were on the ranch. But they're from the ranch. And there are photographs of one of the original families staying in the homestead in its original location. But I can't tell you where it's from. Cooper could, but not me. And so, it's too bad we're not there right now, but it's amazing. I mean the way she had it set up, just all this amazing furniture and emblems from the past. Old boots and hats and objects that have been found or gifted. And it's this really eclectic, quirky place that's kept its homestead charm. And it's really authentic and interesting for-- especially for outsider artists to come and see this. Because it's not-- it's not just your Montana cabin where it's just like a nice cabin with some cowboy stuff. It's like authentic stuff in there. And so it's neat, really neat to see arrowheads and just found objects and things like that. Also, old equipment used for farming and old equipment used for working with sheep. Just all over the walls. And it's really neat. And then in the-- I believe it was the late 60s, they also had an attachment put on the house, the homestead cabin, and it's this indoor-outdoor patio. That has a sliding door, this massive sliding door that's originally from the Broadwater Hotel in Helena. Which is this, would have been from the 1800s as well, the door. And so it's just this really quirky place. And it's really neat to be around, yeah. It I think really helps the artists feel immersed in this old-timey like western world, you know?

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah, it's crazy how fast we lose the history of what some of those tools were.

>> Right.

>> From where I'm at, we're pretty close to some of the large timber in the Cascades and there are photographs around Ellensburg of some of the historic logging tools, you know, which is all done by horse and by hand. And you see some of these implements and unless somebody was there to tell you what they're for, you oftentimes can't imagine what they might have been for.

>> Well, that's certainly been the case for me as someone who didn't grow up around this. For instance, there's one tool in there that's meant for cutting ice. And you know, it just looks like a big saw with massive teeth. And I wouldn't think of anything other than oh, that's a saw. But for its specific purpose--

>> Yeah, teeth that big wouldn't do anything to wood.

>> Yeah, exactly. So yeah. And then like I said, a bunch of sheep-- it's just really, really old rusted stuff for sheep, too. And it's just fascinating that they're still there. And it's like I've always been so impressed with the amount of history that this place and I'm sure a multitude of other ranches have been willing to keep. Because they knew of their importance even then. Knew to keep these items because they knew they were already becoming outdated, obsolete. And I'm just so grateful that I-- that we have access to these things. Because like you're saying, they're-- things are changing all the time and so it's-- we're losing access to their purpose. They're becoming artifacts. They are artifacts.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah. I don't what else I was going to say to that capacity.

>> Yeah, it occurs to me too this is a climate that preserves those things. You know, I grew up in northern Alaska in the Ozarks. And between the [inaudible] humidity, anything that has organic matter is pretty quickly taken apart by natural processes within, I mean, certainly after 125 years there wouldn't be much left.

>> Sure.

>> And the cabin, if it had not been deliberately preserved in some way.

>> And I will say-- yeah, I will say this cabin, unfortunately, we're at a point now where this cabin is-- it's falling apart. And every year, we have a family meeting to discuss what will we do with this cabin? Because it's a matter of time. The wood is rotting and it's just a matter of time. So, you know, this is what we're doing for now. Having these artists come out and by having people live in that homestead for the summer months, it really does help, you know, keep it going. One more year, one more year. But we're going to have a big talk soon about what to do. Because it is falling apart.

>> Recreate it, you know, using the same methods and materials.

>> Exactly.

>> Yeah.

>> Right-- and so--

>> Which is making a comeback, my cousin in Minnesota, who is taking up, you know, learning how to manufacture buildings using the methods that they used in the 1800s.

>> Oh, that's great.

>> Yeah.

>> Wow.

>> You know, without iron connectors and stuff.

>> Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean this is a log cabin. You know?

>> There was no nail gun putting that thing together.

>> Exactly. And I've looked into preservation grants and things like that. And you know, I think there's potential there. Just a matter of making moves. And we just haven't. But, yeah. It's going to need something here pretty soon. Yep. Because unfortunately, it's just not going to last. It's mostly the wind, I think, and rainfall. Snow. Yeah.

>> A number of things that we were talking about queued up a memory of a poem that Nicholas Carr talked about in his book "The Glass Cage," which is about the effects of automation on humans. And as you might guess, he's not a big fan of automating everything. He feels like there's something significant-- that's important for human dignity in doing some of these kinds of labor. Like taking care of sheep and building cabins. Anyway, he quotes a poem called "Mowing" from Robert Frost. And he says it was the poem in which he found his distinctive voice, plainspoken and conversational but also sly and dissembling. And he says to really understand Frost, or to understand anything, including yourself, requires as much mistrust as trust. And as with many of his best works, "Mowing" has an enigmatic, almost hallucinatory quality that belies the simple and homely picture it paints. In this case, of a man cutting a field of grass for hay. And the more you read the poem, the deeper and stranger it becomes. It's not a very long one, I'm just going to read it. "There was never a sound beside the wood but one, and that was my long sigh, the whispering to the ground. What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself. Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun, something perhaps about the lack of sound, and that was why it whispered and did not speak. It was no dream of the gift of idle hours or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf. Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak to the earnest love that laid the swale in rows, not without feeble pointed spikes of flowers, pale orchises, and scared a bright green snake. The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows. My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make." Carr goes on to say, "We rarely look to poetry for instruction anymore. Instruction. But here we see how a poet's scrutiny of the world can be more subtle and discerning than a scientist's. Frost understood the meaning of the mental state we now call flow long before psychologists and neurobiologists discovered or delivered the empirical evidence. His mower is not an air-brushed peasant, a rustic caricature. He's a farmer. A man doing a hard job on a still hot summer day. He's not dreaming of idle hours or easy gold. His mind is on his work. The bodily rhythm of the cutting. The weight of the tool in his hands, the stocks piling up around him. He's not seeking some greater truth beyond the work. The work is the truth. And there are mysteries in that line, the fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows. Its power lies in its refusal to mean anything more or less than what it says. But it seems clear that what Frost is getting at in the line and in the poem is the centrality of action to both living and knowing. Only through work that brings us into the world do we approach a true understanding of existence, of the fact. It's not understanding that can be put into words. It cannot be made explicit. It's nothing more than a whisper. To hear it, you need to get very near its source. Labor, whether of the body or the mind, is more than a way of getting things done. It is a form of contemplation. A way of seeing the world face-to-face rather than through a glass. Action unmediates perception. Gets us close to the thing itself. It binds us to the earth, Frost implies, as love binds us to one another. The antithesis of transcendence, work puts us in our place." The book is tremendous and I love that quote and that poem. But the-- you can imagine the feel of, you know, of moving aside that's designed to complement the motion of the human body to accomplish something that's useful, in this case cutting hay for the livestock. And it creates an understanding of the world that's something more than, you know, scientific facts about grass and people.

>> Absolutely. Yeah. No, that was moving. Right. Yeah, I think it's this flow that we're all seeking, but we've lost access to, a lot of us. I think it's this flow that artists seek, too. And what they're doing. And it's that same understanding of the flow that helps rancher and artist understand this existence. I think.

>> Yeah. Yeah, that just occurred to me too, in reading that. That there's-- that both these two groups, if you will, that seem to be at opposite ends of, you know, the social spectrum, I think probably have much more in common. And that's part of why, I think intuitively, this seems like, you know, this artist program, you know, on a real working ranch, seems like a really beautiful and productive synthesis. And it intrigues me, although I hadn't really attempted until our conversation right now to try to put, you know, put some words around that. In doing work with people that I would consider to be environmentalists, meaning they care for the environment, and they're antagonistic to ranching, I have found that, you know, we can sit in a classroom and talk until we're blue in the face about science and quoting scientific studies and arguing from logic about whether or not livestock could even be good for our natural environment or not.

>> Right.

>> Then it often doesn't go very far. You know? But if you're standing out on the side of that mountain discussing, you know, what the actual effects have been of livestock been here for the last 150 years, you know, what's actually going on in the real world, then you begin to come to some understanding. I think not just back you're seeing the real world, but because you realize the common ground that you have in terms of what rancher and environmentalist are both trying to achieve, or what they want in the real world, overlaps by about 90%. And we may differ a little bit as to the means. But in terms of ends, I think they're usually about on the same page. And so I think what you're doing here is a tremendous way of trying to provoke some of that communication in a positive sense.

>> Yeah. Thank you for saying that. I see that, too. And without even really being able to articulate it, I don't think what I've-- you know, this podcast, I don't think I've done justice, but overall I think this is exactly it. It's a desire to bring forth a... Yeah. Like a sacred access to something beyond our human ability to be one with this bigger picture. And yeah. I think the overall goal is to unite, to unite these two forces and see the potential there. To spread awareness and spread intention. Yeah.

>> Well, Ashley, thank you for your time. For those who maybe jumped in the middle, my guest today was Ashley Wertheimer at the Sieben Livestock Company in Montana. Again, thank you and I look forward to continuing the conversation.

>> Thank you for having me.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

>> The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.

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Mentioned Resources

Ashley and Cooper are featured in a Montana Land Reliance video series, "Stewardship with Vision."

Women in Ranching recording: Art-of-range – Aor-036-srm-09-womeninranching

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