Art in the Field 2017

 September 21-25th

Elk Lake Lodge – Centennial Valley, Montana

Each year Art in the Field takes participants into unique locations experiencing extraordinary natural settings that inspire creative work and spiritual growth. It combines fieldwork with writing and explorations in creativity, spirituality and art.  Each person works with the professional faculty to develop a four-day schedule that meets their goals and moves them forward in skills, project development, and personal reflection. While fieldwork is primary, group sharing and study are woven into the schedule through evening programs and mealtime discussions.  

This year’s workshop, set in Centennial Valley as the aspen are turning, will be memorable.



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Award-winning artist, John Hughes, will lead a daily plein air painting class beginning Friday morning and culminating at noon on Monday.  The workshop will consist of daily demonstrations and student painting time with plenty of one-on-one instruction.  On most days participants should expect to paint two small studies.  On day will be dedicated to painting a series of half hour studies.  Artists who wish to work independently are encouraged to sign up for Art in the Field and work withoutinstruction in their preferred medium.  

There will be spaces available to work in-doors as well as in the field.


Mary Tull will facilitate field expeditions into the varied and dramatic Centennial Valley environments to photograph landscape, wildlife, historic homestead buildings, and much more!  Photographers are also welcomed to plan solo field trips to work on independent projects. 


Facilitated by Mary, Tom and Amy writing will be a common thread throughout the Workshop with time set aside to share work including nature writing, poetry, and memoir.   Everyone will receive a Spirit Lab Journal to fill with illustrations, observations, and found treasures from bird feathers to brilliant fall leaves.  


Creativity, Spirituality & The Arts

Tom Goldsmith and Amy McDonald will facilitate evening explorations into creativity, spirituality and the arts.  Our time together in Centennial Valley will provide artists using different art forms an opportunity to reflect on the spiritual influence of creating art in the splendor of such a unique environment. Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. When involved in the creative process, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of our lives. This represents a remarkable contrast with most of human history when creativity was assumed the prerogative of supreme beings. Now women and men are the creators. Whether this transformation will help the human race or cause its downfall is not yet clear. It is important that we understand the awesome responsibility and opportunity the gift of creativity brings to our lives.  

Centennial Valley is an isolated high-elevation valley located in the Greater Yellowstone of Southwest Montana.  It is home to the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge established in 1935 to protect the trumpeter swan.  The Refuge with its lakes, streams, and marshes is the largest wetland area in the Yellowstone region. Birds abound including sandhill cranes and sage grouse.  The dramatic Centennial Mountains rise up from the Valley floor as its southern boundary.  This East-West mountain range along the Continental Divide serves as a critical corridor for wildlife migration.  Its isolation makes it prime habitat to a wealth of mammals including wolves, bear, elk, moose, deer, and wolverines.  It’s not unusual in one day to see antelope herds racing across the grasslands, moose grazing in the willows, and fresh water otters playing in Elk Lake.

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Workshop Facilitators


John Hughes

John is an award-winning artist who paints landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes, in both oil and acrylics. John has had numerous featured articles in the Fibonacci Fine Arts Digest, as well as articles in Plein Air Magazine, Plein Air Today, and most recently in a French art magazine titled, Pratique Des Arts. His work was recently featured in the book: Plein Air Painters of Grand Teton National Park, by Donna and James Poulton.  

John has a deep respect for the land that he loves and he thrills each time he goes out to paint; either on location or in the studio. He is a teacher with a following of hundreds of students with whom he has had the privilege of working with over the years.



Mary Tull

Mary is a co-founder of Spirit Lab Workshops.  Mary became a mixed media artist and photographer through dancing and choreography.  As a graduate student- WHERE- she began choreographing dances for camera using both still photography and video. Her passion was to work with artists, especially soft sculpture artists, to construct abstract environments for multimedia works.  The dances had sound, texture, light, shape as well as an improvisational energy in a created movement landscape.   Most recently she directed the University of Utah’s Taft-Nicholson Center in Centennial Valley.  She is an artist working in photography, mixed-media and encaustic painting.  (

Rev Tom Goldsmith

Tom is co-founder of Spirit Lab Workshops. He is the senior minister of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. Tom currently is a visiting professor for the University of Utah’s Philosophy Department.


Amy MacDonald

Amy MacDonald is Artistic Director at the Kimball Art Center where she oversees creative programming, outreach, education, exhibitions and collaborates on visioning for the organization.  She is also Founder and Director of Brolly Arts, a non profit organization committed to increasing the collective impact of artists and arts organizations in Salt Lake City and Utah.



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Recreational Activities

Recreational activities abound in Centennial Valley, The Red Rock Lake Wildlife Refuge, and at Elk Lake.  These include bird watching, boating, swimming, hiking, star gazing, and personal time for yoga and meditation. These activities can be woven into your personal schedule for fieldwork, group experiences, and independent explorations.


Elk Lake Lodge has a variety of private or shared Montana cabins that sit in a large meadow bordering Elk Lake.  These very comfortable rustic cabins can viewed on the lodge’s website. When you register for your Art in the Field workshop package you will be asked to specify the type of lodging you prefer.  We will work with you to make your lodging fit your needs. We expect to have the entire lodge and grounds dedicated to our workshop.  


All delicious meals, daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are included in your registration fee.  Meals begin with dinner on Thursday night and end with lunch on Monday.  Please note if you have special dietary needs.  Meals are hosted in the Lodge’s restaurant.


The Elk Lake Lodge website has detailed driving directions coming from a variety of locations.  Once leaving paved highway from either East or West, you will be traveling on maintained dirt road for several miles.  Car pooling is encouraged!  Travel time from Salt Lake City is about 6 plus hours.  Before entering the Valley fill your tank with gas at the last available gas station.  A good place to stop on I-15 is Du Bois, Idaho. 

Fees & Registration

There are two options that include lodging, food, and workshop activities.  A - Workshop I  - $750 per person  B - Workshop II includes John Hughes Plein Air Painting Instruction - $1100  (maximum 15 students) In addition to a $100 Deposit to hold your slot. 

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Know Before You Go


Travel Safely

Fill up your gas tank before entering the Valley.  From the West (I15) fill your tank in DuBois and from the East at Island Park or West Yellowstone.  The roads to the Lodge is dirt/gravel and well maintained but there is no cell phone service after leaving the paved highways. Should you need roadside assistance during the day, the road is fairly well traveled and someone will come along. Make sure to let us know your expected time of arrival so we can watch for you. It is always a good idea to check the quality of your tires to avoid flats and if you wish to drive two-track roads in the Valley area, you will need a high clearance vehicle. 

Plan for Altitude and Sun

At an elevation of more than 6,800 feet and plenty of sun, it is easy to get dehydrated.  Bring a water bottle and refill it often. Bring sunscreen and apply it liberally. Hats and layers are a must!


Phones and Media




Bugs and Bears


When Out and About


Medical Information

Elk Lake Lodge does not have cell phone service.  However, there is a phone in the office. There are a couple of hot spots in the Eastern end of the Valley that make texting and some cell calls possible especially with Verizon. 

Cameras, binoculars, scopes, and telescopes can help make your time in the Valley an extraordinary experience!  If you are a fisherman, bring your gear!  Also kayaks and canoes are great additions.  

Because Centennial Valley contains such a large wetland, at certain times of the year (not so much in the fall) the mosquitoes are at home there too. Be prepared by bringing plenty of insect repellent.  This is a wilderness area with wildlife to both admire and respect. Follow the guidelines presented when you arrive. 

It is best to go out trekking in groups. If you go off on a solo hike or even a solo car expedition at any time of day, let us know where are you are going and approximately when you plan to return. 

Upon arrival please supply us with any medical information you feel we should have to ensure your safety.  

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions!