A week ago, Erin Jones Graf had settled into the Great Plains Art Museum's new Elizabeth Rubendall Artist-in-Residence Studio and Education Lab, her glass palette and brushes on a table, a painting in process on an easel.
By Wednesday, the Montana painter had finished the large landscape with exploding sky and cattle grazing below, had a small painting taken from a photograph of Nebraska flooding in progress and was talking with a couple dozen University of Nebraska-Lincoln advance painting students.
At 6 p.m. Friday, Jones Graf will speak at the First Friday event in the lower-level gallery of the museum at 11th and P streets as she wraps up her two-week residency.
The gallery is filled with 35 pieces by Jones Graf -- large paintings, oil sketches and pastels -- that make up her well-titled exhibition -- “Montana: Prairies to Peaks.”
Primarily a landscape show, save for “Beyond the Land and What is Beyond,” a lovely 2018 picture of her 7-year-old daughter standing in a field with rain coming down on distant mountains, the paintings capture the world in which Jones Graf grew up and lives.
Raised on a ranch that’s been in her family since 1908, Jones Graf moved to Bozeman to study art at Montana State. After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking and a degree in K-12 Art Education and becoming a NCAA Division I All-America selection in the heptathlon, Jones Graf coached track and field at Montana State, married and had two children before returning to art in 2015 -- as a self-taught painter.
Many of the paintings in the exhibition come from the ranch. Others are commissions that convey the Montana landscape and, of course, the big sky that connects the entire Great Plains.
Some of the paintings are ruminations on her life on the ranch -- “Paired,” for example, is a direct look at a cow and her calf that’s how she remembers her experience with cattle as a girl.
“A lot of the paintings are a literal representation of a place I was at, at the moment,” Jones Graf said. “The colors, the time of day and the light, it was just so perfect, I didn’t want to change it.”
Some, however, have dramatic alterations, like “Evening in July,” a sunset-time painting in which the grass is bright red, instantly setting it apart from standard landscape and emphasizing Jones Graf’s skill as a colorist.
“Montana: Prairies to Peaks” is on view at the Great Plains through June 29. Graf, however, is only in residence through Saturday.