As I was walking up Main Street to Mugler Plaza this past Friday, I wondered what new delights I might find at the Artisan’s Market. I didn’t have to wait long! A young lady was sitting in her booth near a photograph of a sleepy buffalo. I’m still not sure whether it was the buffalo or the young lady that drew me in, but I was soon happily ensconced in a chair near her, pen in hand.
“Thank you for letting me take a few moments of your time to get to know you and your photography,” I opened. “First, some basics. Your name and what brought you to Teton Valley...”
“I’m Lanae Dunn — no relation to the Dunns here, though. I’m originally from Opelika, in Alabama. Following his retirement from the military in 2014, my brother-in-law and his wife, my twin sister, moved to Victor that April. Soon after, she called to tell me I had a pre-arranged interview via Skype with the Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa in Teton Village. At the time, I was living in Georgia and working in hospitality. I agreed to the interview. Eighteen hours later, I had an offer from the Lodge!
“Two weeks after that, sight unseen, I moved to Victor where my sister and her husband welcomed me to stay with them. It was very helpful to move in with someone already familiar with the Valley, and, by the time I’d found my own place, I felt I was beginning to know — and love — the Valley.
“Living in Victor was perfect as it’s close to Teton Pass. Although I drive it almost daily on my way to and from the Lodge, I never tire of the drive — it’s just so beautiful, no matter what time of day, no matter what the weather is doing.
“Eight months after my arrival in the Valley, a family emergency called me back to Georgia where I stayed for about eight months. Things straightened out, but I realized all the time I was there I had been thinking about Teton Valley. This is my ‘happy place’! So, back I came. I found a place to live in Driggs, and am still working at the Lodge in Teton Village.”
“How did you get into photography?” I asked.
“I got my first Nikon at Christmas, 2014. It became an escape for me as it allowed me to see things from a different angle. But it was the beauty of Teton Valley really inspired me to get started! I find beauty in old things — you know old barns and such. It’s like exploring history with my camera. When I can, I hop in my car and drive around — Tetonia, Felt, Alta, everywhere in the Valley. And I always find new things to photograph.”
“Do you use the camera on your phone at all?” I was curious.
“Oh, I do. Those photos are for my friends on Facebook. But I can’t get the quality photos from my phone I can from my camera. Camera photos give me the full vividity I need to capture the entirety of what I’m seeing.
“I feel I see things perhaps differently from other people. I see other angles. And a camera allows me to capture that. For example, my sleepy buffalo here,” she said pointing up at a splendid shot of a mature buffalo with his eye half-shut. Lanae had been close enough to the animal to capture not only the look on its face, but even the grains of sand in his shaggy hair. “I have great respect for the animals,” Lanae picked up. “I make sure I give them plenty of space and don’t do anything that might startle them.
“Not long ago, one of my friends requested several prints of a few of my photos I’d shared online. That’s when I got the idea I might actually be able to sell them! My photography had been for me up ‘til then. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Valley this year and things changed dramatically at the Lodge, I found I had time to take online photography classes. My family has been very supportive of my efforts, too. My dad bought me a new camera, and I was able to begin in earnest to create photos worthy of selling. Even as the Lodge began to open up, they have also been very supportive and make it possible for me to be here on Fridays and at City Plaza on Saturdays to sell my work.”
“Tell me about this picture,” I asked pointing up at an arresting photo of some old barns and outbuildings.
“That’s my ‘Christmas Postcard’. It was a moody, stormy day early in the quarantine, and I’d gone for a drive out towards Felt. I find stormy days more cathartic than gloomy, and the misty, rainy-ness often puts things into sharper perspective. Although most people traveling that road would probably look up at a barn on the ridge to the east, my eye was caught by the farm down below to the west. It takes intelligence to have built old barns and buildings like those. They have weathered the test of time, and they testify to their builders’ creativity and ingenuity. That’s what I try to capture.”
A woman had come into the booth and was browsing Lanae’s postcards. She picked up one that depicted an elk, his stunning rack adorned with velvet. Lanae had caught him in the midst of a big yawn, but it looked as though he were smiling. The verbiage on the card was, “There’s always something to smile about”.
Although the Artisans at Mugler enjoyed their last day there on Friday, September 11th, Lanae may be reached on Facebook or www.lanaedunn.smugmug.com. Besides her prints for sale, she also has face masks and gaiters adorned with her photos.
And now, a shout out to our Downtown Driggs Association, the force behind the Artisans at Mugler. Public spaces have become even more important during these (hopefully) unusual times. Alison and Fallon have taken creative place-making to a new level with Mugler Plaza by providing space for some of the Valley’s most talented artisans to gather and for weary denizens and visitors alike to gather and feel refreshed by the vibrancy of creation. You know, Fred Mugler himself must be smiling somewhere...
Fred Mugler, proprietor of Mountaineering Outfitters that occupied the space where the Colter Building and Mugler Plaza are today, had dubbed Driggs as “the cultural hub of the universe.”