Casper, Wyo.: The wonders of the Nicolaysen
Road Journals Blog—I thought I walked into the wrong place. It was a giant, wood-floored room with windows almost up to the 30-foot ceiling. Huge circular tables were covered in white linen and elaborately folded cloth napkins. Satin-swagged chairs circled them.
I had obviously stumbled upon a side door, but it was contemporary art I was looking for, not a wedding reception.
“Can I help you?” asked a woman whose hair had to be her +1.
“Um, I’m looking for the Nicolaysen.”
“Oh, you’ve got it,” she said. “We’re just getting ready for a wedding tonight.” I guess if I lived in Casper, the NIC would be at the top of my list of places to have a party, too.
While the hustling and bustling continued in the substantial lobby—the building started its life in 1924 as the Mountain States Power Company—I escaped into the galleries of the only museum in Wyoming focused solely on collecting and exhibiting contemporary art from the Rocky Mountain Region.
I was pleased to find that the current temporary exhibit—Ucross: Twenty-Seven Years of Visual Art Residencies—included work by a few people I knew. It includes dozens of pieces by visual (and even a few performance) artists who have done residencies at the Ucross Foundation, about a two-hour drive northeast of Casper.
The true draw here, however, is the NIC’s permanent collection. Too big (6,265 pieces, give or take a few) to be displayed in its entirety, it’s continually cycled through the space. While there, I saw some Dali lithographs and pieces by Jaune-Quick-To-See Smith, Kevin Red-Star, and Ted Waddell.
Finally, I checked in on the largest of the Nic’s special exhibits, from the Conrad Schwiering Studio collection, which includes the content of the artist’s Wyoming studio at the time of his death in 1986—sketches, studies, completed works (mostly the landscapes for which he's best known), and even some of his tools, furniture, and books.
The NIC is about as different from the state’s other powerhouse art museum, Jackson’s National Museum of Wildlife Art, which focuses on the outdoors, as can be. I liked it. Wyoming is more than animals, cowboys, and Indians, after all.
Dina Mishev wrote about Casper, Wyo., for the September/October 2011 issue of Via.
This blog post was first published in September 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.