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Women of the Land

Tina Butterfield provides feedback to a student on a painting they created.

An art professor embarks on a project to paint portraits of the women in the Gunnison Valley who are connected to the land through their work.

Western alumna and current art professor Tina Butterfield spent years painting the landscapes of the Gunnison Valley. When she decided she wanted to dive deeper into the land, she turned to the Gunnison Pioneer Museum for inspiration, and found exactly what she was looking for.

“After spending a few days walking through the museum and going through the archives and photos, I started to realize what I wasn’t seeing, and that was an equal representation,” said Tina.

A portrait in the museum of Chipeta, a woman married to the Ute chief Ouray, captivated her. Still, she couldn’t help but notice the Ute woman’s portrait was one of only a few women included in the history. Thus, the Women of the Land project was born. Tina’s idea for the project is to interview 40 to 60 women connected to the land in the Gunnison Valley and create portraits telling their stories. When Tina sent out a call for women of the land, she received over 100 responses within the first 24 hours.

A painting of Sally Thode

One person who responded was Alexis Taylor, a woman who helps manage nine high-tunnel greenhouses that provide food to the Gunnison Valley. Another was Range Rider Jessica Howard, who oversees a herd of cows that roam the Gunnison National Forest. The first woman on Western’s ground crew, Caitlan Gleason, who had a hand in planting the grass at the new Mountaineer Bowl, also answered the call.

Another woman who responded was local writer Quincey Knight. After some consideration, the two creatives decided to collaborate on the project. Each portrait Tina paints will be accompanied by a poem Quincey writes. The idea is that the poem will reflect a deeper sense of what Tina is trying to convey visually.

“We’re hoping to work together to create a lasting story that documents and celebrates these women who are working and connected to the land,” Tina said.

Still in its infancy, the project so far includes 20 women. When Tina started the project, she thought it might last a year. Now, she is shooting for three years to collect all 40-60 women’s stories but says the work will be done when it is done.

A painting by Tina Butterfield

“I don’t want to underrepresent any of these women,” said Tina, “and I feel honored to be able to represent them and give them a place in history.”

Tina hopes to include more diverse voices in the women’s stories she tells as the project continues to grow. She is searching for women of the land who are a part of the Ute tribe located in Gunnison but hasn’t been able to make a connection yet.

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