Tale of Teton Teater
Prolific painter created a canvas per day during decades spent at
Summer 2008 issue of
Images West Magazine
By Cara Froedge
|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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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.”