Gravity and Water: Mark Making in a Winter’s Desert with Anne Kaferle
Finding Helper at a time when she “needed it the most,” landscape artist Anne Kaferle has put down roots in Utah, thanks to plein-air painting and the healing power of time alone in the landscape.
The Healing Nature of Solitude
One of the biggest draws for Utah travelers is the quest to find solitude in nature, away from the sprawl of buildings, in the quiet of wilderness, and under the dark sky. It’s a feeling unique to the open spaces and variety of landscapes throughout the state, and for some travellers, that feeling can become irreplaceable. (Read: "Finding Strength and Inspiration Deep in the Utah Desert")
Experiencing aloneness in nature can be jolting, but others might consider it a healing tool. Artist Anne Kaferle has grown intimate with the latter. “Everyone should experience solitude, and see what it stirs up in them,“ she says. Odd jobs, white water rafting, hiking and climbing initially drew her to Utah, at a time she says that she “needed it the most.” After experiencing a rut during a transitional moment in her life, the state began to offer more opportunities that helped her “feel more secure” in who she is.
That security eventually led her to feel confident pivoting away from scientific illustration, a concentration she had thought might turn into a career opportunity. Spending time outside en plein air started to call to her, even though she had no background in oil painting. After searching for artists she admired, Doug Braithwaite caught her attention, who was hosting week-long painting workshops in Helper. The experience “opened up a door for me.” She embraced the slow pace of a rural town and has stuck around for eight years since then.
“It's important to me to feel like I'm the only person that's around looking at something,” she says. “I just need to feel at peace and not really think about other people in my work.” And her paintings express this: Through minimal interpretations of a landscape, the work becomes more about the impression of what the geological history is recording, rather than capturing all the variety of details from her vantage. As Kaferle looks above the canvas, painting becomes a “kind of natural process,” but one that she controls. What starts as a capture later becomes more of a reaction to what’s happening on the painting, “to give it the best sense of balance and color relationships.”
This process connects her to a primeval feeling, one that she describes as seeing the same processes of the earth that people saw thousands of years ago. “It connects you back to the original culture that you had, which is from the landscape directly,” she says.
"One of the biggest draws for Utah travelers is the quest to find solitude in nature, away from the sprawl of buildings, in the quiet of wilderness."
The Serendipity of a Quiet Place To Live
“It’s got a really gentle pace of life. You’re surrounded by more natural sort of rhythms,” she says of Helper, the cadence of her voice seeming to match the deep pulse of the earth as we speak over the phone. (Read: “Turning Carbon Into Culture.”)
Walking outside in Helper, you’re surrounded by the wild, she says. The town’s Main Street boosts an iconic Western look and feel, with 2,000-foot cliffs in view to the north. A river runs through the middle of town, offering a relaxing place to walk along an easy trail, with river restoration projects drawing people in to swim and float during the warmer months.
With a slower pace of living, it becomes easier to focus on art and expression. And with a nurturing environment of fellow artists, many of whom have purchased old buildings on Main Street and converted them into art galleries, it makes sense that this environment would cultivate and support many creative spirits. (Read: “Utah Female Artists Explore the Sublime Through Art.”)
"If there’s one thing I really want to encourage people to do, it’s to get to know your own little spot in the world. Find the spot that makes you feel the most connected to the landscape."
– Artist Anne Kaferle
Going Deep, Finding Connections
When the artist describes how the light can change over the course of the seasons and throughout the years, it begins to feel akin to measuring the slow rate of a plant’s growth. So often travelers find themselves trying to stuff their schedules with different sites to see, activities to do, restaurants to try out. For Kaferle, that tempo has shifted. “I’m going deeper into the place that I live,” she says. ”If there’s one thing I really want to encourage people to do, it’s to get to know your own little spot in the world. Find the spot that makes you feel the most connected to the landscape.”
“We have lived too shallowly in too many places,” Wallace Stegner writes in his great western novel “Angle of Repose.” By embracing the solitude of nature, it seems fitting to settle into a deeper presence — be it through plein air painting or just spending time outside alone in the landscape. (Read: “A Red Rock Reading List.”)
Settled in 1881, Helper was named after the team of “helper” coal-powered steam engines that assisted freight trains up the neighboring canyon and over Soldier’s Summit; the city was created because of and for the coal industry. Though the tracks are still integral in the town’s DNA and even more-so, history, its identity has changed.
Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs
Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs are two of the most popular hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. Learn all about them here and plan a hike now!
Price sits close to the northern section of the San Rafael Swell, which is home to vast deserts, yawning canyons, and fascinating rock formations. The area is known for its coal mining, as well as its recreational opportunities.
San Rafael Swell
San Rafael hikes and bike rides offer unique terrain and jaw-dropping scenery. Learn about the area’s trails and start planning your trip!
Torrey's proximity to Capitol Reef National Park, the mountains of Fishlake and Dixie National Forests, Scenic Byway 12: Utah's All-American Road, sublime desert landscapes to trout-filled alpine lakes, make Torrey an outdoor lover's perfect hub for some of the most spectacular scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities in the state.
A Walking Tour of Helper, Utah
Guarded by the 18-foot fiberglass coal miner "Big John" and hugged by railroad tracks, Helper, Utah, is a historic town with blue-collar roots that has grown into a walkable epicenter of art and culture with easy access to trails and river recreation.
Resiliency Road Trip
The emergence of small Utah towns like Moab and Helper offer an inspiring backdrop for a road trip focused on reinvention.
Turning Carbon Into Culture
Helper, UT has a future, and it is one built by the community, through hard work, love for place and a touch of serendipity.
Where to See Women's Art in Utah
There’s no shortage of art galleries in Salt Lake City and across Utah's Wasatch Front. Beyond the major metropolitan areas, there are also small artist communities across the state where artists seeking a slower pace have flocked for decades. Here are a few recommendations for where you can experience art in Utah.
Women in the Wild: Transformation and the Outdoors
Paula Colman joins a weekend retreat for women in Moab, Utah, that has an eye-catching mission: Build your tribe. Connect with your inner spirit. Transform body, mind and spirit around the theme: “Ignite the Flame Within.” Follow along as she seeks her authentic self and learn how to find your own Tribe.