To commemorate 150 years of women’s suffrage in Wyoming, we talk with Lindsay Linton Buk about her profound experience creating an exhibition celebrating the Equality State.
A backcountry pilot from Upton, a rural emergency physician in Worland, and a Shoshone cultural preservationist on the Wind River Indian Reservation. An abstract-expressionist painter in Banner, a nonagenarian rancher from Sweetwater County, and a glass-ceiling-busting state supreme court chief justice from Laramie. What two essential qualities could ever be shared by such a varied cross section of singular folks?
One: They’re all women. Two: They’re all from Wyoming.
Another commonality: They’re all pictured — among several other standout individuals — in Women in Wyoming, a new exhibition running until next August at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Conceived and created by Jackson-based artist and photographer Lindsay Linton Buk, a fifth-generation Wyomingite, the exhibition aims to celebrate the groundbreaking achievements, contributions, and personal narratives of contemporary Wyoming women — some widely known, others not.
“At the end of the day, I choose my subjects because I feel energized to work with them and genuinely want to learn more about their lives and share what I learn,” says Buk, who logged more than 1,500 road miles, 600 rolls of medium-format film, and more than 50 hours of audio interviews to bring the ambitious photographic and podcasted project to life.
Coinciding with both the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and Wyoming’s own sesquicentennial of women’s suffrage, the show celebrates not just the women but the groundbreaking state itself.
Cowboys & Indians: In a historic centennial and sesquicentennial year, your new show, Women in Wyoming, is our nominee for the timeliest, most expansive, and most photogenic contemporary celebrations of thriving women in the West. What was the genesis of the project?
Lindsay Linton Buk: My inspiration for the series evolved from my own personal journey as a fifth-generation Wyoming woman who came home. Growing up in Powell, where my family goes back five generations, I never imagined I would have a future in my home state. I always thought I’d have to leave to be successful as a creative and wanted to experience more of the world outside of Wyoming. After living and working in New York City, I returned to Wyoming and consciously made the decision to challenge my own idea of Wyoming as limiting. Soon after opening my commercial photo studio, Linton Productions, I created Women in Wyoming to connect with my peers and show what is possible in the rural West today.
C&I: Was there a “stage one” with the project before it evolved into something even more multifaceted, complete with podcasts?
Linton Buk: It began as a photographic concept, and the exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West was always my culminating vision. The BBCW is 20 miles from where I grew up in Powell, and the prestige of the space — [as] Wyoming’s only Smithsonian-accredited museum — made a strong impression on me as a kid. In fact, before I started production, I’d reached out to a curator there to share my idea for Women in Wyoming and asked how to submit an exhibit proposal.
The podcast phase evolved in stages. I knew I wanted to capture the women’s actual voices and felt strongly about creating a platform for them to tell their stories in their own words beyond just written narrative. ... Mastering the art of interviewing is now a continual quest, and I’ve absolutely loved being able to stretch my storytelling muscles through the interview process.
C&I: The series includes women from all walks of life. How did you/do you find and choose your subjects?
Linton Buk: I consciously select subjects from different industries, geographic locations around the state, age, and ethnicity. My subjects don’t have to be born in Wyoming. One of them hails from Madras, India [now Chennai]. But they do need to show a commitment to making a long-term impact in Wyoming. I’m continually on the lookout for new subjects, either via word of mouth, through my nomination page on womeninwyoming.com, or by asking my subjects who they’d recommend.
At one point, I wanted to find a female pilot. A Google search didn’t reveal much, so I pulled out a map of Wyoming, noted all the towns with an airport symbol, looked up their numbers, and started cold-calling the list. When I got to Upton, Wyoming, and [met] Lori Olson — a pilot and airport director who saved a small rural airport from becoming a dump — I knew I had found my subject.
C&I: Any other favorite “out there” finds turn up beyond the Google search?
Linton Buk: Sheep camp at the base of the mountains on the Wind River [Indian] Reservation definitely comes to mind. For Chapter III, I wanted to showcase a rancher or pastoralist. My ancestors were sheepherders in former Yugoslavia, and I’ve always been fascinated with that lifestyle. Wyoming used to have a booming sheep industry, but with the increase of synthetic fibers and predators, sheepherding is much less common today. While on a drive across southeastern Wyoming with my husband, [I discovered] a lone sheepherder with his
flock of sheep in the middle of the desert. I began looking into ranchers in that area and eventually connected with Jim Magagna, executive VP of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, who recommended Mickey Thoman — a sheep and cattle rancher who at age 90 is the matriarch of her ranch in Sweetwater County. It was actually her flock of sheep we’d driven by that day.
Two weeks later, I joined Mickey and her three daughters — her ranching partners — at sheep camp at the base of the Wind River Mountain Range, where we sorted and herded about 2,000 sheep from their summer to winter pasture. The entire experience was incredibly special and felt very kismet.
Another pinch-me experience last year culminated with a flight in the back of a Black Hawk helicopter piloted by the only female medevac pilot at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Cheyenne.
C&I: Are there certain core qualities that unify your very varied female subjects?
Linton Buk: A common thread that unites them, I think, is that they all live their truth and therefore express their power in their own unique ways. I also believe they all have a message to share with the world and are fully engaged in journeys of courage and ultimately triumph. ... One of the biggest recurring lessons I learn from my subjects is to embrace life fully and say yes to opportunities you could have never planned. Most of what would be considered my subjects’ biggest breakthroughs were a result of seizing the moment, which led to a defining chapter in their life.
C&I: Was there an effort to dispel various gender stereotypes along the way?
Linton Buk: I believe in the power of women and girls, and as someone who contributes to the media through my work, I feel a responsibility to add a positive voice — one that represents women and girls from a position of power and strength. I didn’t see a lot of that in the media growing up, and it always bothered me. Women are amazing, complex, and capable of so much more than I think we give ourselves credit for. It’s a huge part of my mission to illuminate our collective strength and power and share that with the world, both through Women in Wyoming and with my commercial portraiture. So, yes, there is a conscious effort to collectively celebrate female strength, ambition, and power because I think there’s still so much space to share that perspective. Seeing is believing, and in a state as rural as Wyoming, it’s important to know what your peers are doing. It’s my mission to show the many pathways to success in the rural West today.
C&I: The exhibit has five different chapters. Among all the individual stories, do you see an overarching theme?
Linton Buk: Overall, each chapter plays into a larger narrative about the cycle of growth, stepping into your truth and power.
When I first had the vision to document Wyoming women, I had to break down the big picture into a manageable production timeline. I work full-time as a commercial photographer, so I couldn’t take extended periods of time off to solely focus on the project.
I knew I could produce five strong profiles in a year, and that’s where the chapter format began. When I looked back on those first five stories, “Chapter I: Breaking Boundaries,” I felt they all had a common thread of overcoming obstacles — either internal ones, like the artist Neltje, who overcame abuse and now paints bold 10-by-30-foot abstract-expressionist canvases, or shattering some of Wyoming’s glass ceilings, like Wyoming’s first female supreme court justice, Marilyn Kite.
When thinking about Chapter II, this idea of “Filling the Void” kept coming to my mind. It was both literal and figurative, representing Wyoming’s vast open spaces and how individuals have so much opportunity to make an impact in a place that’s small-scale like Wyoming, while also feeling a draw to connect with women in Wyoming’s more rural and industrial areas. Chapter I and II both looked at themes of risk taking and cultivating awareness, so “Power” seemed like an obvious next step to put that intention into action and became the focus of Chapter III. Chapter IV is titled “Rising,” and it explores themes of creativity, imagination, and leadership. I literally see an upward trajectory when I think about what happens when you step into your power. There’s also an element of reinvention in Chapter IV, as I believe within the cycle of creation and growth there’s an element of destruction and leaving certain things behind.
“Chapter V: The Cowgirl State” is a position of “owning it” and explores past, present, and future. To me, it represents a position of freedom, which is something I think many of us living in the West can relate to and why we choose to live here in the first place.
C&I: Wyoming celebrates its 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage this year. “The Cowboy State” famously became the first state to allow women to vote — a full 50 years before the 19th Amendment gave the right nationally. Any thoughts on why Wyoming got there first and earned bragging rights as “The Equality State”?
Linton Buk: The reasons for Wyoming recognizing women’s right to vote are contested; however, there was a clear moment when Wyoming stood for women. Two decades after we passed our historic vote for suffrage and were applying for statehood, our federal congress threatened to keep Wyoming out of the union unless we rescinded suffrage. Our legislature responded via telegram [to the effect of]: We may stay out of the Union 100 years, but we will come in with our women. I’m very proud to be a Wyoming woman, and I love that piece of our history. At the end of the day, a law is an important first step, but there is still much work to be done to reach true equality for women and girls around the world.
C&I: What do you hope people take away from the show?
Linton Buk: Energy and inspiration. The exhibit is a platform to expand your imagination of what can be possible, to spark curiosity and reflection of what you want to cultivate more of in your life while learning about some of Wyoming’s amazing women. We are also incorporating storytelling components, encouraging our audience to share the stories of the women who inspire them. ... It’s been amazing to offer a contemporary reflection of where Wyoming women are at today and add a voice to the global conversation from the rural West about the beauty and profound legacy of Wyoming women and girls.
Women in Wyoming runs from October 25, 2019, to August 2, 2020, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. For more information on the show and future venues, visit centerofthewest.org and womeninwyoming.com.
Photography: (Lead Image) Lindsay Linton Buk on location producing Mickey Thoman’s profile for “Chapter III: POWER” at sheep camp in the Wind River mountains. (Top to Bottom) Lori Olson, director of the Upton Municipal Airport, backcountry pilot, and rural airstrip advocate, featured in “Chapter II: Filling the Void.”Lauren Gurney, DUSTOFF medevac pilot and owner-cake maker, Jackson Hole Cake Company, featured in “Chapter IV: Rising.” Marilyn Kite, the first female justice and first female chief justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court, featured in “Chapter I: Breaking Boundaries.”Jessie Allen, yogi, outfitting guide, NOLS instructor, former Miss Wyoming, and the manager of Allen’s Diamond 4, a guest ranch at 9,200 feet in the Wind River mountains, featured in “Chapter V: The Cowgirl State.”W&M Thoman Ranches matriarch Mickey Thoman with her daughter Kristy Wardell, granddaughter Taylor, and daughters Mary and Laurie Thoman.
All images: Courtesy Lindsay Linton Buk
From the November/December 2019 issue.