The Wallace Stegner Project

“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

Wallace Stegner, “The Wilderness Letter,” Dec. 3, 1960

Wallace Stegner has been a part of our landscape since his first novel and short stories were published in the 1930s, through his bigger and better novels and biographies later in his life, through his conservation writings, and through the influence of his founding and developing of the prestigious Stanford University Writing Program.

He has been a steady force for those of us who love literature and the environment. Through tumultuous years of a long life, Stegner was consistently good and thoughtful and enlightening with his writing. Equally, his character was as solid as the Western mountains he loved and as broad and deep as the prairie landscape that imprinted his childhood years in Eastend, Saskatchewan.

As a reader and a photographer, I have been influenced by Stegner for many years. I think he has been one of the best writers America has produced, and his approach to the American West and his concern for Conservation have impacted my photography over the years as well.

So, when I discovered The Wallace Stegner House in Eastend, Saskatchewan (his boyhood home, now an artists retreat), I set myself a goal of spending time in the landscape of Stegner’s youth, the place that imprinted on his soul what became his reality of how Man should relate to his world. The southwest prairie of Saskatchewan, where the Stegners homesteaded from 1914-1920, also wind-chiseled the writer and teacher and human being Stegner was to become, but in so doing it revealed the Artist as a Conservationist. One result was “The Wilderness Letter” that Stegner wrote in 1960, the capstone of the Wilderness archway that Thoreau began building over 100 years prior.

Being accepted as an artist in residence at the Stegner House for part of May 2016, I planned to spend 8 days traveling the prairie roads and up into the Cypress Hills to see what Stegner saw. To feel the solitude that he felt as a child on the “darkling plain.” To feel the wind and the sun and glory in the light and the shadows and the smells of this part of the planet.

Stegner’s words were the start of my exploration. I searched for those photographic images that must have been similar to those that imprinted his young life and resulted in some of his most beautiful and profound words.

My further hope here is to keep Wallace Stegner’s life and works alive and available to readers and thinkers for generations to come. We, I, owe him that much.

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