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Belle Fourche To Host Trails To Tales Multi-Media Event

The western South Dakota town of Belle Fourche is the center of the action in the Trails to Tales interactive art adventure. Trails to Tales is a multi-media presentation featuring original and reworked illustrations and photographs by Black Hills State University Professor and artist Dr. Mary Caton-Rosser.

Multi-media means that multiple forms of communication are used to produce and promote a message or event. Trails to Tales is a multi-media event where artist Mary Caton-Rosser uses photographs, sketches, editing software, art exhibits, a speaker series, and social media to promote community interaction. She wants to get people talking about art and wants to show how today’s computer technology is enhancing her artistic creations of yesteryear.

Back in the 70’s Caton-Rosser was considering college but instead spent her time photographing wildlife in Wyoming. Working at Yellowstone National Park, she encountered grizzly bears, bald eagles, and pronghorn. She used her camera to document the sightings.

Her photos quickly became popular. She says people identify with the character of the animals, and many would inquire about purchasing the photos. She says she couldn’t keep up with the demand. Printing technology at the time was limited and reproducing the photos was expensive.

Caton-Rosser says she knew the photo chemistry would one day wear off and her photos could be lost forever. She decided to make elaborate sketches of the photos to immortalize the images. But the process was slow and the project was eventually shelved for years - until last summer.

“At my lake home up in Northern Wisconsin – I was cleaning it out and found a box of a bunch of original other sketches that I’d done when in Yellowstone back in the late 70’s and early 80’s,” says Caton-Rosser.

Caton-Rosser says the photos were aging and she knew she must preserve them.

She called on recent Black Hills State University graduate Tabitha Witte to help her with the preservation process. Witte was asked to frame and matte the old photographs - with one additional request. Caton-Rosser was asking Witte to incorporate radial symmetry using Photoshop into restoring her aging photographs. Radial symmetry is a technique of duplicating an image and then arranging them in a circle.

“I knew Mary wanted radial-symmetry pieces but other than that I had a bit of a free reign when it came to the design of them. So I just started messing around and I then I saw what came up from that and then I continued to make them look visually interesting, as well as work as an image,” says Witte.

Witte says putting a new spin on old art is inspiring.

Caton-Rosser says her idea keeps progressing.

“And then of course it kind of took on a life of its own as I decided that I wanted to enhance it from a gallery show which is something I did back in the day to a multi-media event,” says Caton-Rosser.

Caton-Rosser says this multi-media event in Belle Fourche is the perfect platform to show the technological process her artwork is taking – it has been thirty years since she first photographed the animals. She says people aren’t entirely familiar with the term “multi-media event” but attendance at the month-long event is steadily gaining momentum.

“You know like there’s a core of it and it just starts growing out in to this radius of interested people, and now we can expand even further with the use of social media,” says Caton-Rosser.

Facilitating discussions that span the wide open spaces between rural towns of South Dakota using decade-old artwork applies to Caton-Rosser's current research. She is studying social media use and how it affects society, and also how it affects the profession of mass media. She says social media is a communication mechanism that allows community members to participate in social events like Trails to Tales without leaving home.

“We need to wind that in there somehow so that people can virtually essentially attend the showing of Trails for Tales from wherever they’re at any given moment in time,” says Caton-Rosser.

She adds that there are multiple social media outlets like Facebook and Flickr that people can use to join the event.

Tabitha Witte says Trails to Tales is an opportunity to rub elbows with friends and neighbors and to network with others in the community. She says each art exhibit is a little different.

“The businesses are connected to one another because they all share the same show. Essentially we’re having the city be the whole and then the parts inside of it. So to experience the whole you have to go around the entire community,” says Witte.

She adds that the artwork appears in several public buildings in Belle Fourche like the library and the high-school.

Artist Mary Caton-Rosser says the Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche is host to the artwork and the lecture series. She says the speakers address animal-related topics like endangered parrots and dog training advice.

“It’s quite a complex process, it’s not just looking at some photos or illustrations on a wall – it’s actually considering the entire Trails to Tales process. Not only is it complex because it involves technology, it involves art, it involves a speaker series but it’s a gathering together,” says Caton-Rosser.

Community members say it’s working.

Rochelle Silva is the Director of the Tri-State Museum. She says the speakers are getting people talking.

“We try very hard at the Museum to be a center for the community – to have various outreaches, at the same time we do try to have programs that the community would be interested in and would be involved in,” says Silva.

Silva says the Tri-State Museum is geared towards history and learning, and Trails to Tales is fitting because it is an educational opportunity for community members to engage in.

“People are interested and they do come in and they do visit and they are engaged, and they ask questions of the speaker,” says Silva.

From photos to sketches, and sketches to computer-generated art, the wildlife of the Wyoming back country keep popping up in Caton-Rosser's life. She says they're like old friends.

“It’s just sort of risen again after maybe at least fifteen to twenty years since I’ve did anything like this. It’s a fun project. It’s like déjà vu, déjà vu, ha-ha-ha,” says Caton-Rosser.

Mary Caton-Rosser’s animal photos were a topic of conversation in the 70’s and continue to be something to discuss in today’s digital age as the animals in the Trails to Tales live on in her new, old artwork.