Artist and benefactor, Neltje and her two young children moved out to Wyoming in the mid-Sixties from New York. In 1966 she bought a 440 acre ranch in the Lower Piney Creek Valley from Oscar “Windy” Carlson that had been owned and leased by many people because the smallness and nature of the land made it difficult to be financially viable. The original stone single family house was made of local stone at the end of the Spanish American War. Some locals refer to the property as the Hamilton Post Office. Over time the structure was revamped and expanded and the original ranch lands extended to include larger holdings for raising cattle, historical preservation, land management and conservation.
Private Family Foundation
Within this ranch setting, spectacular views over scoria topped hills to the majestic Big Horn Mountains are softened by the rich green of the fertile valley that grows abundant hay and alfalfa for cattle. Few houses or signs of human existence dot the two mile stretch of Piney Creek that flows through the property. Many reservoirs provide oases for cattle, wildlife, and humans. Within this unique ranch setting, Neltje came to experience the peace and calm from a Wyoming landscape that also offers a healing power for mind and spirit. In time she realized the potential to share the landscape and the life giving experience with other creative individuals. Jentel is the dream and embodies the vision of Neltje, as a single benefactor, who established a private family foundation in January 2001.
To start a full scale operating residency program from scratch is a tremendous endeavor. Neltje was eager to establish a year round residency program in her lifetime rather than setting up an endowment and burdening her children with the responsibility. Beginning the winter of 1998, Neltje consulted with Mary Jane Edwards on research and development for a year round artist residency program. During the two year planning stage, they visited residency programs in the Northwest, developed key components of the program, and became individual members of the Alliance of Artist Communities.
As a pilot initiative in March 2001, Jentel accepted two visual artists and one writer for a month long residency in temporary facilities in a comfortable guest house and Neltje’s studio and in a study on the ranch. Shortly after the first three residents left Wyoming, Neltje launched into locating a permanent site, working with the local professional community to design and construct the complement of seven buildings envisioned for the residency program, planning the interior design and expanding the residency to a full time operation and year round program for six individuals for a one month residency eleven months of the year.
In June 2001, the Board of Directors reviewed potential sites for a permanent, year round residency village. In September 2001, architect Ross Iverson and contractor Larry Baker and his crew broke ground at the new site, located on the old Collins ranch just off County Road 149 where it cuts across Piney Creek. Excavators on trailers and hard hat crews moved onto the new site and immediately began construction on the residence, artist studios, writer studios, a center for offices, reception and conference space along with a residence and studio for the director. Whether new construction or renovation of existing ranch buildings, the architect and designer worked closely to insure that residents and staff would have an experience of the western landscape and culture through out the facilities. This group of five new and two renovated structures reflects the agricultural and historical setting and echo the sweeping lines of the foothills and mountains.
September 2002, Executive Director Mary Jane Edwards and Residency Program Manager Lynn Reeves moved and set up offices for year round operation in The Cabin, while the construction crews were still hard at work on six other buildings on the new 80 acre Jentel site. Working side by side with Neltje, they quickly turned their attention to implementing plans that over the next four months would take Jentel from a dream to reality.
Through a series of Sunday brunches and tours, Jentel greeted artists, neighbors and members of the surrounding community on a construction site that was nearing completion. Applications for resident hopefuls for the next year were reviewed by an outside panel of arts and literary professionals. The media picked up the buzz of activity on the ranch. Just over 175 members of the work crews, suppliers, staff and their families enjoyed an appreciation dinner in The Residence on January 12, 2003. Then just short of sixteen months after the Board approved the plan to move to the permanent site in the Lower Piney Creek Valley and begin construction on the residence facilities, Jentel officially welcomed the inaugural group of four visual artists and two writers on January 15, 2003
A few weeks later, the two writers in residence initiated Jentel’s community outreach program, Jentel Presents, at the Book Shop in Sheridan. Scheduled at various sites in the two communities closest to Jentel, Sheridan and Buffalo, this event has grown into a monthly venue of slide presentations and readings by the visual artists and writers in residence. From month to month, the Jentel Presents evening with its diverse and varied presentations offers an appreciative and enthusiastic audience the opportunity to interact with the residents and experience creative expression from across the country. While using this single event to share their creative production with the community, the residents preserve the privacy of the creative process in the studios at Jentel throughout their residency.
December 13, 2003 the last group of residents left for the year. Staff focused the next four weeks on facilities maintenance, programmatic discussions, preparation for the next season January 15, 2004 and celebration of a very successful year, seasoned with memories of residents, town trips, presentations, studio visits and farewell dinners.
Throughout the spring 2003, the Jentel staff discussed the opportunity for partnerships for a residency with Poets & Writers, Inc. and Anchor Books. The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT approached Jentel with a similar idea.
A collaboration with Anchor Books began with plans to award up to three residencies a year to writers in the prestigious O. Henry Prize Stories, the annual collection of the best short stories written in English and published in North American magazines. New Yorker and writer Douglas Light joined the April residents as the first recipient of a Jentel Foundation O. Henry Residency.
With the intention of creating an opportunity to develop more informed and thoughtful critical writing about the ceramic arts on a national and international level and further enriching the creative environment of the residency programs, the Bray and Jentel established a collaboration on a shared residency that promotes critical and creative writing and thinking. In May, Stephanie Lanter of Wichita, KS arrived on site as the first Jentel Critic at the Bray Residency. She spent one week at the Bray researching and interviewing two fellowship artists and then three weeks at Jentel writing two articles for the fellowship exhibition catalog.
In August 2004, poet Jane Wampler of Colorado Springs, CO was the first Poets & Writers WEX Jentel Residency recipient. As one of the two winners of the 2003 Writers Exchange Program, Jane was also awarded a residency at Jentel in the following year.
The first weekend in October 2004, Jentel hosted the panelists for the first on site review of residency applications. This was the initial visit to discuss work samples and make recommendations for residency awards. Previously, the panelists reviewed work samples in their respective communities. Along with lively discussion of the work, the panelists enjoyed an evening with the residents and tours of their studios, as well as a tour of the facilities and a dinner party with artists and supportive members of the community.
Alliance of Artist Communities
Since 1999, Jentel has moved from individual membership, through emerging program to organizational membership in the Alliance of Artist Communities. Each year at the annual conference, Alliance staff and members are amazed by Neltje’s vision and drive and at the remarkable progress toward realizing her dream. For those individuals who know her, when Neltje makes up her mind that she wants to do something, no matter how simple or complex the project, everything and everyone necessary are mobilized until completion. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and that spirit permeates the mixture of individuals involved.
The AAC is a national consortium of organizations and individuals that offers time and space for creative work. The Alliance supports these residency programs by providing national visibility for the programs, values, and successes of artists’ communities, and by facilitating field-wide collaboration and information-sharing. The Alliance now includes more than 200 organizations and individuals. Executive Director, Mary Jane Edwards served as a round table discussion leader on the topic of attracting a stronger, larger pool of applicants at the annual meeting and conference hosted by the Santa Fe Art Institute in October 2004.
Board of Directors
Beginning with the first annual meeting of the Board of Directors in June 2001, Jentel as a private family foundation has enjoyed the enthusiasm and support of a small and dynamic group of family members, arts professionals, artist staff and a financial advisor. Under their stewardship, Jentel has experienced tremendous growth and development in defining its mission and realizing the goals of the organization. Neltje’s vision is no longer a dream. Jentel is a vital and inspiring place for artists and writers to explore the creative process, to experience of the vastness and power of the Wyoming landscape and to balance the solitude of the studio life with interaction within a small and engaging residency community.
History in the Shaping
With the residency program fully operational, Neltje, the Board and the staff continue to consider ideas and opportunities to enhance the residency and to implement new initiatives to insure Jentel’s continued contribution to artists and writers and members of the surrounding communities. Through the foundation, Neltje's vision and passion for the arts and the Wyoming landscape will be shared with the immediate Sheridan community and the greater arts community in the years to come.