Archie Boyd and Patricia Teater Studio-Residence, Bliss, Idaho (1952) (S.352)
(Note, due to the fact that the internet is constantly changing, and items that
are posted change, I have copied the text, but give all the credits available.)
The Tale of Teton Teater
Prolific painter created a canvas per day during decades spent at the easel.
Summer 2008 issue of Images West Magazine
Archie Teater, seen here in his studio in the early 1970s, was the first artist to open a gallery in Jackson Hole.
During the mid-1950s, Bev and Monte Later drove from their home in Idaho to Jackson Hole, searching for a painting of the Tetons.
Before the Laters’ search began, they stopped for lunch at Moore’s Open Range Restaurant –– now Legacy Gallery. On the wall above their table were still-life paintings of oranges, potatoes and strawberries.
The 20-something couple, just starting to collect art, inquired about the paintings. The artwork, they were told, was done by a local guy with a studio a few buildings away.
The Laters went in search of their Tetons in Archie Teater’s log studio. Right away, they found them. But they also came across a painting of the New York skyline. He wanted the mountains. She wanted the city.
“We were deadlocked,” Monte says.
So the couple checked into a motel for the night. They’d sleep on it and decide whose $150 painting to buy the next day. Come morning, the Laters still had not resolved their spat.
They caved and bought both, starting their 50-year history of collecting paintings by the artist who’s locally known as “Teton Teater.”
Archie Teater is said to be one of the first artists to paint Jackson Hole and the surrounding landscape. Indeed, Teater was even the first artist to open a gallery in Jackson Hole.
It’’s estimated that Teater created about 4,000 paintings in his lifetime, making him, some say, one of the most prolific painters in the U.S. It was typical for Teater to paint a canvas per day.
His pieces featured Western logging and mining camps, the Tetons, Jackson Hole street scenes, New York City and the San Francisco skyline.
“He must have had 10 paintings in his head for every one that ever hit the canvas,” Later recalls. “But you’d ask him what was his favorite, and he’d say the one he just finished.”
Teater’s impressionistic works were done almost exclusively in oil on canvas. For the most part, he worked en plein air, and the bulk of his painting was done on the scene despite rain, snow, sleet and sub-zero temperatures.
At the height of his success, he enjoyed a national and international following, with gallery representation in New York City. His paintings hung in shows at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and in exhibits next to work by artists such as Charles Russell and Thomas Moran. U.S. Embassies showed his works, while collectors including Averill Harriman, Laurance Rockefeller, Godfrey Rockefeller, George S. Amory, Henry P. Cole and Mrs. Charles de Rham bought Teater paintings.
According to some, Bennett Cerf, the founder of Random House, bought a piece when it was still wet.
“Of the local famous artists, Archie was the first,” says Lester Taylor, a part-time valley resident who penned a book about Teater. “Of the subsequent Jackson Hole artists, he is probably the best known. In terms of painting the Tetons and Jackson Hole, Archie is totally without peer.”
Yet while paintings by other deceased Western artists are only growing increasingly popular, Teaters haven’t achieved that kind of posthumous success. Thirty years after his death, the legacy of Teton Teater is largely known only by those who collect his paintings and the people –– fewer and fewer each year –– he considered friends. While his paintings can fetch $500 to $3,000, Teater’s only official gallery representation isn’t a gallery at all. It’s an antique shop in Boise, Idaho.
In his time, Teater’s art career was successful enough that, despite living in poverty through early adulthood, he was able to commission and build the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Idaho in his 50s. His earnings allowed the artist and his wife, who never had children, to spend 30 years traveling the world, painting in more than 100 countries and crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth and the Concorde.
For many of the tourists who came through town every summer, Teater was a tourist attraction in his own right. Visitors often bought a painting to commemorate a trip out West. Today, Teater’s paintings are scattered around the country.
“He doesn’t command a whole lot of attention as far as being a really important artist,” says Christopher Moran, an art appraiser. “He never really gained strong recognition as a painter anywhere other than Town Square here in Jackson. More than anything, he was just sort of a character.”
Taylor says that’s not so. People just don’t remember.
“After he died, he just fell off the ends of the earth and disappeared,” Taylor says. “Of course, he’s still well-known as an individual around that square, but even now that is dying as the people who knew him and have his art are getting elderly. The big problem is getting him back into the art world.”
Teater was known for childlike naivete and for his temper. He liked to drink, and it’s said that Teater paid his debts –– including those incurred by his wife’s penchant for petty theft –– in paintings. He once got in a fistfight with Glenn Exum and didn’t renew the friendship for 35 years.
Teater was born near Boise, Idaho in 1901. He grew up poor and never finished eighth grade, basically supporting himself from the time he entered his teens.
Teater used to tell people that he had never known what art was until he saw a “buckeye” artist –– a painter who traveled around painting people’s portraits for a living –– at the age of 15.
“He was absolutely fascinated and decided then and there to be an artist,” Taylor says.
Some say Teater’s first canvas was cut from the covering of a sheepherder’s wagon.
As a teenager, he made a living working at logging and gold mining camps along the Snake River in Idaho. Yet he found that his coworkers –– miners, trappers and lumberjacks –– had little patience or understanding for his artistic side, so he often took his wagon into the mountains for solitude, working for days on landscape pieces.
By the time he was twenty, Teater sought formal instruction, leaving Idaho for Oregon to attend art school at the Portland Art Museum.
By 1928, Teater bought a Model T Ford and traveled to Jackson for the first time to paint the Tetons. For several years, he spent the first part of his summers here constructing trails in Grand Teton National Park. Yet every summer, as soon as he earned enough money, he quit his trail-building job to spend the rest of the months painting.
He got his name, “Teton Teater,” while living in a tent along the shores of Jenny Lake. There, the artist exhibited his paintings by leaning them against trees. When he was away from the campsite, he left a note requesting that buyers pin payments to a blanket or drop them in a coffee can.
As Teton Teater became more well known, Eastern summer visitors thought Teater would benefit from exposure to the New York art scene and encouraged him to seek it out. With help from a benefactress, Frances de Rham, a Park Avenue resident who had a ranch in Jackson Hole where she spent summers, Teater attended classes at the Art Students League in the 1930s.
A major magazine, Flair, even ran a multi-page spread on Teater.
“New Yorkers were fascinated by this quiet, cowboy artist and his Western art,” an artist’s biography of Teater says.
In New York, Teater’s name began appearing in art columns and magazines more and more, and he enjoyed the taste of fame. But every summer the mountains beckoned Teater back to Jackson Hole.
In 1941, Teater married Pat Wilson, also a nomad who was raised on the west side of Chicago by a wealthy grandmother. That same year they opened Teater’s first galley, rented in the Railway Express Office. Today, the log cabin on Cache is home to JC Jewelers.
After they married, the couple began a routine that continued for the next 30 years. Spring and summer were spent in Jackson, selling paintings to tourists to make money for the rest of the year. After Labor Day, the Teaters went to the Hagerman Valley of Idaho, where they commissioned a Frank Lloyd Wright home with the only artist’s studio the architect ever built.
There, Teater painted more whimsical, fantastical pieces. By winter, the couple left to travel the world, visiting places such as Scandinavia, the British Isles, Western Europe, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, the Orient, South America, Australia and New Zealand, the sources for works known as his “International Collection.”
For a while, they traveled in a Volkswagon Karmann Ghia, with racks on the front that carried his paintings. Whenever something inspired him, he had to paint it immediately.
One time in South America, as the plane was coming in for a landing, Teater looked out the window and spotted some pigpens and farms. He got off the plane, and Pat couldn’t find him. He had grabbed his painting kit and an easel and walked down to the end of the runway to paint pigpens.
While the artist may have had an international reach, his time in Jackson garnered him quite a following.
Though Taylor bought his first Teater piece in 1971, his first encounter with the artist was actually in August 1957, when Teater held a painting clinic for employees of Jackson Lake Lodge.
“He’d say:‘Let’s have some mountains,’’ Taylor recalls. “And then some mountains would appear. Then he’d say ‘‘Well, we need a lake.’’ So there was a lake. Then he’d say ‘We need some fishermen.’ And then just suddenly they would appear.’
The Later couple says that, while Teater had talent, his wife had a knack for getting him attention.
“She really made him pretty famous,” Monte Later says. “She was very good at using the press everywhere they went. Even the foreign press. She was pretty good at squeezing a story out of them.”
Every year, she increased the prices of paintings by 10 percent.
Eventually, the couple retired to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, where Teater died in 1978. Pat passed away a few years later.
They left their substantial estate to the Idaho Community Foundation, which received 1,400 paintings in 1994.
Teater’s paintings are now shown in a Boise antique store, and the proceeds benefit children with disabilities. Since 1994, Teater’s paintings have raised almost $1 million.
There are 370 remaining to be sold.
For the Laters, Teater’s paintings have brought much more than art to their homes. It was the personal friendship with the artist that enhanced their lives.
“That was really a special time,” Monte says. “Whenever we left, we felt so enriched.”