Hull’s Half Acre: a dozen canoes in the desert ”
By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune
An artist in the area by the pseudonym Greg Wymoing – no, that’s not a typo – wants you to think about it. And smile.
He recently installed a sculpture – “Hull’s Half Acre: A Dozen Dinghies in the Desert” – on a hill outside of Frannie. Overlooking US Highway 310, the 12 recycled motorboats are positioned at their ends, embodied as a group. It caught the eyes and wonder of many passers-by in Wyoming’s northernmost enclave.
The sculpture sits next to a faded old Cadillac, older firefighting equipment, and a bright green John Deere tractor with yellow accessories. They are also sculptures, according to the artist.
Wymoing uses the oddly spelled pseudonym because he enjoys his privacy. But he’s a longtime high desert businessman also known as Bridger’s Riley Cooke. He set up the sculpture garden on the hill to convey messages, he said in an interview with the property last week. Some are political statements, he said, “but not like that Trump and Biden bullshit.”
âI want people to stop and think. I want older generations to engage in conversations with younger people. And if I can start to smile, I have done my job, âhe said.
“Dinghies” are not about boats, he said.
âIt’s about spending time with family and friends,â Cooke said. âBoating is family time. Never miss the opportunity to create memories.
The Cadillac and the trailer are a tribute to cowboys.
âIn the days before decent 4 Ã 4 pickup trucks, livestock buyers pulled their horse trailers with a Cadillac, the car of choice,â he explained. âThey would stop on a hill to find the car after driving through unfamiliar and open beaches, while looking at cattle to buy. This cowboy never returned. And with it, the handshake, kindness to others and common sense are gone. We pray for his quick return. The company desperately needs the traits it has with it.
The tractor is a tribute to agricultural producers.
âFood. It’s from the refrigerator. It’s from the store,â Cooke said. âStop. You kill me. It comes from the family farm. Yes. 1.3% of the American workforce feeds us all. Unbelievable. As we thank our military, first responders and the police as it should be. I think we should add the American farm family.
Hull’s Half Acre is a play about Hell’s Half Acre, the otherworldly geological quirk near Casper. The boats are doing exactly what Cooke had hoped for: initiating conversations. Reviews are mixed, but Marty Roedel, a resident of Frannie, likes what she sees.
âIt will make people slow down to watch,â she said, relaxing with friends at the Frannie Bar. “I like it.”
Garrett Pike also likes the addition to the horizon.
âIf you take the time to look at the boats, it looks like the rays of the sun,â he said.
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Cooke says the sculpture is best seen at sunset, when the sky is full of color. Northwest College student Kelsey Herman spotted them just before sunset, as she passed Frannie on her way back to Powell from Billings.
âI was like ‘Oh my God, these are boats’,â she recalls. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
It was too late for the photography communication student to get a photo, so she returned a few days later. Herman wanted to take a closer look and reached half of the boats before Cooke pulled into the parking lot, honked and called him.
While Cooke wants to share his art with the world, he doesn’t want people encroaching on his property. Neighbors are also concerned that roads and private roads will be overcrowded with people wanting to walk to the top or use their land for another vantage point. It is also illegal to gain access to private rail property anywhere other than a designated pedestrian or highway crossing, according to the US Department of Transportation. Access to the sculpture is not at a legal crossing point.
When Cooke pulled over, “I felt like I was freaking out that I was going to jail or the cops calling me,” Herman recalls.
As it turned out, Cooke wasn’t there to stop him, although he reminded him of the rules of railroads and private property.
âHe was like the sweetest human I have ever spoken to,â Herman said. “He was thrilled that I was here just to take in the beauty of his art and photograph it and mix my view of art with his view of art – like, combine the two.”
She was amazed at his commitment to his vision.
Cooke collected boats for over a decade before installing the sculpture. Not only was it difficult to put them in the arrangement he wanted, but it was not easy to lug big boats in the desert.
He had help. Among those who helped, her son James played a big part in the work to set up the facilities. But that was Cooke’s whole idea, James said. “I just do as he tells me.”
The artist is also working on motorcycle and 9/11 themed exhibitions and is not done with the open-air gallery. He plans to direct people to a parking lot with signage available explaining the facilities. He also plans to install a frame so people can line up art for photos.
âA lot of people think the art is framed and hung on a white wall,â he explained. “So we’re going to go ahead and put a big thing in there with the frame, some wrapper, and the name and you can step back, take a picture through the hole in the boat or whatever.”
Cooke is moving forward with his project, unafraid of what people think of his vision. He can explain his inspiration for each piece precisely, due to the time he spent conceiving the ideas – essentially the definition of conceptual art, which is art for which the idea (or concept) behind l The work is more important than the finished art object. Still, Cooke is uncomfortable about being called an artist.
âI’m on the verge of eccentric – more than not,â he said, struggling aloud. “Maybe I’m just an eccentric artist.”