Molt artist Tracy Linder’s home and studio are six miles from the nearest paved road, and a passing vehicle is a rarity.
Much more common for Linder is seeing hawks swooping in the wind currents or hearing the bawling of newborn calves in the barn just outside her studio window.
The spread she shares with her husband, Yellowstone County sheriff Mike Linder, is surrounded by sunflowers and grassland. On a bright October afternoon, Tracy looked out the window of her turn-of-the-century studio to see almost nothing but land and sky.
So it should come as no surprise that her work is rooted in issues relating to farming and world food supplies.
Five mixed-media pieces from her “Shovel” series are part of the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Permanent Collection. They were included in a major solo exhibit of Linder’s work curated by the YAM in 1999. Longtime YAM supporters Linda Shelhamer and Stephen Haraden purchased the works for the YAM collection and the shovels were later kept on display for two years in the “Boundless Visions” exhibit.
One of the shovels, “Shovel # 2,” merges the man and the man-made tool with the plant life that is both nurtured and disrupted by human intervention, YAM executive director Robyn Peterson said.
“Linder finds the poetry of visual form in the commonplace and elevates the mundane to a level of sharp focus and poignancy,” Peterson said. “I am aware of no other rural artist whose work has such power that it can make the viewer wish she could cradle a sheaf of wheat in her arms or speak to a long-dead farmer and apologize for our collective indifference.”
Linder said one of the greatest moments in her career was when she was informed that her work was going into the YAM’s Permanent Collection.
“I am proud to be one of the artists showcased that way,” Linder said.
Linder grew up between Billings and Laurel, raising Angus cattle for her 4-H projects to show at MontanaFair and observing the relationship between farmers and ranchers and the land.
After earning her master’s degree in fine art in 1991 from the University of Colorado in Boulder, she returned to Montana. Her work is held in public collections throughout Montana and Wyoming. An exhibit in 2010 at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyo., gained her a new fan, organic farmer Laurel Graham.
Graham said when she visited the Nicolaysen to see Linder’s work, it was the first time she walked into the gallery even though she had lived in Casper for 10 years. Graham said memories of visiting her uncle’s ranch in the San Joaquin Valley came flooding back to her after viewing the series “Gloves,” where Linder applied resin to worn leather work gloves to pose them in the gestures of hands at work.
“For once my feeling of the soul being part of the earth was not weird, not alone, not some ‘California’ thing,” Graham commented after the show.
For a recent exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum, Linder constructed 100 Angus cow heads of paper, placing two shafts of fescue grass on each head. Linder said contemporary artists like Ted Waddell, who like Linder, graduated from Laurel High School, blazed the way for her.
“I never felt like my way of life was being reflected in a contemporary way,” Linder said.
In her studio, Linder has several projects she is working on, including a new series of newborn calves that she will cast in bronze with umbilical cords made from sisal twine covered in beeswax.
She is also sketching a large drawing of a cow’s face using a 3-millimeter pencil. It is tedious, repetitious work. But that’s what Linder loves. She has been working on the drawing since she was the first artist-in-residence at the YAM’s Visible Vault several years ago.
Linder’s life-size horse, “Terra Equis,” which was created for the Horse of Course public art project in Billings, is on display in the baggage claim area of the Billings Airport.
One of her most compelling works is a new series, “More Than Enough,” which shows a life-sized chicken in a paper bag, which is slightly larger than the area many laying chickens are kept in.
But mostly, Linder creates artwork that allows the viewer to find their own message.
“I like it more when it’s up for conversation instead of having the message so obvious,” Linder said.