Earlier this year, JanyRae Seda saw a small ad calling for applicants for the first-ever Idaho Bureau of Land Management artist-in-residence program.
Seda wouldn't characterize herself as being particularly outdoorsy—the last time she'd been camping was in Girl Scouts, but she filled out the application and submitted a resume. She didn't think she would even hear back.
"I was hesitant to apply for the BLM thing because I didn't think I was going to get it," Seda said. Then she found out her colorful, somewhat abstract, mosaic-like oil paintings were exactly what the BLM was looking for.
For the immersive wilderness experience Seda would need, the BLM gave her a choice: raft down the Bruneau River or travel by horseback into the Owyhee Canyonlands. Having no idea what to expect, Seda hastily picked the first option. Then she found out she was going to spend four days in the Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness, floating 40 miles down the Bruneau River during high-water season. Seda had floated some Class II rapids before, but would be facing 10 miles of Class IV rapids on the last day of the trip.
"Some of my paintings represent my experience and remembering the sound," Seda said. "It was so loud. And looking at these huge boulders and just wondering how [the guide] is going to get us through this. Then there's the next Class IV. Then to be done with it—it was relief, but it was almost like, 'Can we go back and do it again?'''
Seda went on the Bruneau-Jarbidge trip with the agreement that BLM would have reproduction rights to one of her paintings, so she brought along her sketchpad and paintbrushes.
"But it was so overwhelming, I could not create," Seda said. Instead, the Boise-based artist took photo after photo and returned to her studio in October after traveling the country doing art shows. It wasn't until then that she put paint to canvas to express her experience on the Bruneau.
The work flowed from there. In one month, Seda created 22 oil paintings of the canyons, the sunsets, the river and the rapids.
"There's going to be more," she said, adding that she plans to focus on landscapes for the foreseeable future. She can see why people "get hooked" on whitewater: trips through Hells Canyon and the Salmon River are on her to-do list.
On Nov. 6, Seda opened her studio to the First Thursday crowd to show off her Idaho landscapes. Almost every inch of wall space at Seda Studios is crammed with large, glossy, vivid oil paintings; and despite being off the beaten downtown path at 14th Street near River Street, art lovers also packed the space. They listened to Seda tell the story behind each painting—"I love this one because I literally remember pulling the boats up on that beach, the sound of the sand"—and tried not to brush against any wet paint.
Among the crowd was Krista Berumen, new media team member at the BLM. She helped put the artist-in-residence program together this year, which included hosting two more artists—photographer Scott Carter and writer Annie Lampman—in the Owyhee Canyonlands last month. Berumen looked carefully at each of Seda's paintings, searching for the right one to represent Idaho's wild country.
Berumen said the artist-in-residence program started nationally a few years ago, but Idaho's BLM was inspired to get involved this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
"This is just the perfect opportunity to get people out to enjoy what's in their backyard," Berumen said. "It's a way for us to work with local artists and let them translate the resources that BLM manages through images and artwork. It's cool to see wilderness through their eyes."
The BLM will use its reproduction rights to print posters, but Seda is going a step further. She's donating one of her pieces to the BLM, which will in turn donate it to the Wilderness Society, which will auction it off to raise money for wilderness projects.
"Giving them a piece wasn't required," Seda said, "but I feel like that's the only way to reimburse them for the experiences I had on that river and afterwards."
Seda told Boise Weekly she was so inspired by her trip into the Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness, it was all she could think about after she returned home. She'd wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning and paint all day—seven days a week. Seda's time as the BLM's first Idaho artist-in-residence became more profound than she could have imagined.
"It's been a transition point in my career," she said. "I'm happy with every one of those 22 landscapes. I've never had that happen before. When I got done with the series, I started to cry because I felt like I had finally found what I'm supposed to do."