Darcie Peet | Wilderness Tidings

Darcie Peet goes off the beaten path for art and soul

By Gussie Fauntleroy

Darcie Peet, Washed in September Sun, oil, 24 x 36.

Darcie Peet, Washed in September Sun, oil, 24 x 36.

This story was featured in the June 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  June 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Darcie Peet spent the summers during college living and breathing the outdoors as a counselor at Sanborn Western Camps in Colorado. Today she still gets emotional when she recalls the camp’s oft-quoted words of inspiration from Walt Whitman: Now I see the secret of making the best persons: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. “It still means a lot to me,” she says. Then she recalls another of the camp’s mottos, a line from naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir: Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.

For most of her life, Peet has been climbing mountains, as well as cycling, kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding. She always returns with good tidings and so much more. Photographs of exquisitely lit wilderness scenes, memories of cool mountain air, the caught-breath feeling of immense awe, and the awareness of being utterly changed by her time in the wild—all of these she carries back from each excursion, and then she transforms them into her award-winning art.

Today Peet’s experiences in nature fan out from two places: a fall-to-spring
Sonoran Desert home in Tucson and a
summer place in Colorado’s Copper Mountain ski community, minus the skiers and snow. Other adventures take Peet and her equally outdoors-loving husband, Barrney, to such places as Monument Valley, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, and Glacier National Park. “One journey is finding hidden jewels off the beaten path,” she says, “and the other journey is the painting process itself.”

Both journeys began early for Peet. Born in Oak Park, IL, and, for the most part, raised near Pittsburgh, she inherited a love of nature from her athletic, outdoor-oriented parents. “I have incredibly fond memories of poring through my parents’ black-and-white photo album of hiking in the Sierras and Canadian Rockies,” she says. But her parents’ gifts were varied. From her mother: creativity, playfulness, solid common sense, and strong organizational and business skills. “She whisked us [Darcie and her younger sister] off to art and science museums, so we got that exposure growing up,” she says. Peet’s father, a longboat rower in college, worked as a financial analyst for United States Steel Corporation. He encouraged his daughter’s interest in art while also teaching her sports and giving her a facility and confidence with workbench tools. More importantly, she says, “He instilled in us to always put our best effort into working hard at something we love.”

It soon became clear that what Peet loved—besides horses and spending time outside—was art. Fortuitously she found herself in a school system with a strong commitment to art education, beginning in elementary school. In fifth and sixth grades she was selected for advanced after-school art classes, opening a window to her “first experience of something special in the art world,” she says. By seventh grade her art teachers were providing virtually college-level instruction, including blind contour drawing and timed life drawing with models. “It was work, work, work,” she says, smiling. Saturday-morning drawing classes at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in downtown Pittsburgh and after-school art programs in junior high and high school added to her early training, while family vacations in Colorado and in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks became her first introduction to the West.

Eager to return to Colorado following high school, Peet enrolled in Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where she received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a focus on painting. Later she earned a master’s degree in interior design from the University of Colorado Denver School of Architecture. That program’s curriculum, prior to the advent of computer-aided design, included intensive reinforcement of hand-drawing skills. Still later the artist attended workshops with such painters as Wayne Wolfe, Ralph Oberg, Skip Whitcomb, George Strickland, Howard Carr, Matt Smith, and Jove Wang.

But before turning her attention fully to her own painting in the early 2000s, Peet gathered a range of work and learning experiences through a 20-year career in advertising management and graphic art in California, Denver, Boulder, and her husband’s hometown of Grand Marais, MN. As a corporate ad manager and graphic designer, she was in charge of project management, ad and logo design, newsletter and trade-show design, and numerous other creative efforts while interfacing with engineers, business people, and fellow designers and managers. She was a member of professional design associations and earned a number of awards in the field. All along she explored her own creative interests, primarily landscape painting, on the side.

Peet and her husband met in Boulder while both were in marketing. They moved to Grand Marais on northern Minnesota’s rocky Lake Superior shore, where over generations Barrney’s family had established resort properties. The couple took over the lodging business, and as co-owner and design director, Darcie handled such roles as building design and development, interior design, and landscape design. “It pulled together everything I had done before,” she says. Her passion and training in fine art also found an outlet as she created large landscape paintings for the resorts, leading to her first solo gallery show in Grand Marais. Eventually she eased out of day-to-day involvement in the lodging business and began pouring her considerable energy, self-discipline, and hard work into her own art.

These days, moving with the seasons between Arizona and Colorado, Peet jokes that migrating animals have it right. At the couple’s Tucson home, a small courtyard tucked between the painter’s office and studio offers an inviting space, cheerful with flowers and mosaic tiles, for relaxing, sketching, and allowing canvases to dry. “It’s a delightful inner world,” she says. The Peets’ Colorado condo has a separate upstairs apartment that becomes her summer studio. With sliding glass doors for abundant light, the studio’s most important feature is a large Hughes wall-mounted easel. Not only does it take up less space, but the easel’s pulley system allows Peet to easily move it up, down, and side to side as she works.

Traveling out from Tucson one winter, the couple took a vehicle tour inside Monument Valley while Barrney was recuperating from a cycling injury and unable to hike. On New Year’s Day, following the park’s restriction on self-driving, they spent three hours riding with a Navajo driver/guide, slowly taking in the stunning, snow-blanketed landscape. At the end of the day, one of those magnificent sights became the inspiration for SNOWFIRE. “As we were coming out, this is what we saw: the sunset blaze on a cliff, coolness and the contrasting richness of the cliffs, and tiny, subtle signs of life—little rabbit tracks,” Peet relates. The painting is part of the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils, on view through June 24 at Eisele Gallery of Fine Art in Cincinnati, OH.

Of countless memorable moments in nature over the years, the Monument Valley ride was one of the two most special experiences she can recall. The other took place in Glacier National Park and resulted in the painting WASHED IN SEPTEMBER SUN. That day began with an early morning boat ride across two lakes before the couple hiked alone to Grinnell Lake. The absolute quiet was eerily
unnerving, giving rise to the disconcerting thought of grizzlies around each bend, although none appeared. Later, at a certain spot on Grinnell Glacier Trail, Peet says, “The angle of the sun turned the lake below to milky aqua, and above us, bighorn sheep were gazing down. Evergreens gave way to autumn colors, and there was a thousand-foot waterfall.” The couple soaked up the majesty of the land spread out around them, continued to the top of the trail and a glacial lake dotted with ice floes, and made it back to the last shuttle boat of the day with just minutes to spare.

When she’s out in such an extraordinary landscape, Peet says, “I could turn in a 360-degree circle and every 10 degrees see another scene to paint.” To travel light and bring back as many memories as possible, she does less painting on location these days, instead using a camera to capture images that later will become paintings. Sometimes she uses photos taken by her husband, who over the years has refined his own visual skills. “Most important for me is inspiration, second is composition,” the artist says. “I work hard at seeing the gems or even a sliver of a landscape that I can translate into a vertical or square.” Lately Peet finds herself premixing more colors before she begins painting and working creatively with a variety of tools, including large brushes and a
palette knife.

The goal is to work quickly, maintaining her initial inspiration and expressing more than the sheer beauty of nature. “To me these kinds of landscapes are powerful and humbling. They evoke such a sense of awe and deserve a great amount of respect,” Peet says. “There’s a personality in the wilderness that is beyond beauty.” And although she stepped aside from painting while pursuing other careers, she has never stepped aside from creativity or her love and deep appreciation of the outdoors. “I think I’ve been true to myself,” she says. “I’ve been true to my dreams my whole life.”

Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; Broadmoor Galleries, Colorado Springs, CO; K. Newby Gallery & Sculpture Garden, Tubac, AZ; Dick Idol Signature Gallery, Whitefish, MT; The Squash Blossom, Vail, CO.

This story was featured in the June 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  June 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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