A Conversation with Jake Gaedtke on his Experience at the Mad Wolf ranch Artist Retreat



August 10th through the 13th, 2023 marked the first annual artist retreat hosted by Cassens Fine Art at Mad Wolf Ranch in Browning, Montana. This breathtaking locale, nestled just beyond the Eastern boundary of Glacier National Park, served as an idyllic backdrop for six accomplished plein air painters. 


Among these talented individuals is  Jake Gaedtke, an award-winning landscape artist hailing from Bozeman, Montana. In an exclusive conversation with Cassens Fine Art, Jake Gaedtke shares his remarkable insights and experiences from the retreat, offering a unique glimpse into his artistic world and the profound connection between art and nature.





Jake, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me. I’m excited to be talking with you. To kick things off, can you share your initial impressions upon arriving at Mad Wolf Ranch and experiencing the surroundings of East Glacier and Glacier National Park?


Well, I'd be delighted to share my thoughts on that. My first impression was that it exceeded my expectations. I wasn't entirely sure what to anticipate. I had imagined it would be a beautiful place, but I couldn't have predicted just how stunning it would be. When I arrived and drove into the ranch, I was genuinely overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all. It's challenging to put into words, really. You have to be there to fully grasp it. The sight of East Glacier in the background, the rolling hills, the serene waters, the expansive fields – every element combined to create an awe-inspiring landscape. It far surpassed what I had imagined, reaching a level of natural beauty that left a profound impact on me.



What were your expectations for the retreat, and how did those expectations evolve as the days unfolded?


I had a couple of expectations going into the retreat. First, I hoped for the opportunity to paint without the need to travel or venture too far, and in this regard, the retreat certainly met my expectations. It provided an ideal setting for painting, set in a pristine and beautiful location.


Second, I was eager to connect with fellow artists from the gallery, some of whom I already knew, such as Richie Carter and Ken Yarus, with whom I share long standing friendships. However, there were others I hadn't met yet, even though I was familiar with their work. This retreat offered a rare chance to not only meet these artists but also to truly get to know them. It's unusual for artists represented by the same gallery to have this level of interaction, and I was genuinely looking forward to this aspect of the experience.


I also anticipated spending quality time outdoors, immersed in the act of painting and fully absorbing the natural surroundings. As the days unfolded, my appreciation for the retreat deepened. Cassens Fine Art, along with their staff and family members present, provided an environment that allowed us to focus solely on our artwork. They took care of meals and logistics, ensuring that we could concentrate on our creative process.


This level of hospitality was exceptional. We didn't have to worry about where to go next, what to eat, or how far we had to travel. It allowed us to explore the area intimately and truly become acquainted with the ranch. We could immerse ourselves in our work without distractions. Yet, the task of deciding what to paint each day was, in itself, a significant challenge due to the endless inspiring scenes all around us.


Does that vary significantly from other artist retreats you may have participated in?


Oh, absolutely. This retreat was quite distinct from many other artist retreats I've been a part of. In several retreats, there's often a considerable amount of stress associated with producing your best work, hoping your pieces will sell, or even aiming to win awards – these are common pressures that come with such events.


However, the Mad Wolf Ranch retreat was refreshingly different. It was incredibly casual and intimate. The small number of participating artists created an atmosphere free from pressure and expectations, aside from focusing on our work. For me, this was a rare and highly cherished aspect of the retreat.

Were there any particular moments or aspects of the retreat that left a lasting impact on you? I realize you may have answered this briefly, but to pose a more precise question, were there any particular moments or aspects of the retreat that left a lasting impact on you?


There were indeed a couple of moments and aspects of the retreat that have left a lasting impression on me. The entire four-day experience was impactful, and I find myself still gushing about it to friends and my wife. It's something I think about frequently because it was such a remarkable experience.


However, there were specific moments during the retreat that stand out. I recall evenings when I was painting, creating a couple of sunset pieces. It was just me, alone in that serene environment. The only sounds were the singing of birds and the sun setting behind distant mountains. Being in that place made me acutely aware of how blessed I am to make a living as an artist. While this realization often occurs when I'm painting, these moments were particularly heartwarming and left a profound impact on me.


Similarly, mornings and evenings during the retreat held a special significance. There's something profoundly spiritual and deeply meaningful about those times of day in general. But one moment that truly stands out is the last morning of the retreat, a Sunday morning. Richie Carter and I met at the lodge. Richie, a former barista, brewed an exceptional pot of coffee with the French press for the two of us. We sat on the back deck, sipping that delicious coffee, engaging in a close and meaningful conversation.


We talked about our artwork, our creative directions, and the things that inspire us. It was a moment of bonding between friends, fellow artists, and peers that I'll cherish forever. Despite the generational gap – Richie could be my grandson – our shared passion for our craft and our friendship transcends any age difference. It’s a moment that will linger with me forever.

I feel like Richie is an old soul, and that's just incredible to be taken to that moment you had with a fellow artist connecting in that way that's just so powerful and so beautiful. I also love what you said too as far as something about the mornings and the evenings being so spiritual. I feel that myself. There were a couple of moments where I did catch a peek of you just out in the most beautiful landscapes from afar, one time specifically at sunset, watching you just take it all in.


Thank you for sharing that observation. It was indeed a profound experience to connect with Richie and feel that deep artistic bond. As for the mornings and evenings, I couldn't agree more about their spiritual quality. Those moments when I immersed myself in the landscape, like during that captivating sunset you mentioned, it felt like a merging of self and nature. It's not about merely replicating what you see; it's about living and experiencing the moment fully.


In past plein air events, I've always preferred camping in tents or being out on the land rather than staying in more conventional accommodations like condos or hotels. Being part of the landscape, feeling intimately connected to it, has a unique power. Even when the painting itself may not turn out to be a masterpiece, it's the experience of being one with the environment that matters most to me. This retreat, with the canvas wall tents and cozy cabins, allowed me to maintain that sense of immersion in the ranch and the landscape.

What elements of the East Glacier landscapes inside and outside the park resonated with you the most and served as inspiration for your artwork?

Well, for one thing, and I've been up to Glacier National Park a few times, but I've never really hiked into it a whole lot. I've always either painted from the roads or fairly close to the roads. This time I had the opportunity to hike up to Little Josephine Lake with the rest of the artists – or most of the artists, and it was the first time I've gotten to experience that and go that far into the park. So I got to know it better and I got to see some areas of the park that were chosen. I mean, Glacier National Park, there just aren’t any words. It's such an extraordinary place, and it's such an extraordinary experience to be there and, again, be part of it. But then to really explore it and to get into it and to get back on the trails and, you know, on the lakes and being there again with my fellow artists – to share that experience really meant a lot. It meant so much to me.


You've got to watch where you're walking because all you're doing is looking around at this marvelous landscape, and you're bound to trip or go off the trail or whatever because it is so mesmerizing. It's almost like you're on another planet. It's such an incredible, incredible place and I was so glad I got that opportunity because I almost stayed at the ranch. I came real close, because I really didn't need to go anywhere. There was so much to paint at the ranch alone. But I thought I better go while I'm here, because I don't get to get up there (Glacier National Park) very often. And I figured while I'm here, I should take advantage of the opportunity and go up because I know Richie and Turner and Ken, those guys really, and Michelle, know the park very well. I knew if I was going to go with them, I was going to see some good stuff. So, I took that opportunity and I was not disappointed whatsoever. I think it's heaven on earth.


I don't know what heaven looks like, but I think that's what it looks like. I think Glacier National Park is like a little wink from God, you know?


I would agree entirely. Sometimes I think he thunks us on the head saying, “Come on, you guys, wake up. Look at this. Look what I've given you,” you know?


“Here's a sneak preview.”


Right. Yes. “And don’t mess it up.”

Can you describe the emotions and feelings you aim to capture in your paintings based on the retreat experience?


Yeah, as I was stating earlier, just what I'm going to try to do is bring back those very special moments that I had regarding my feelings, not only for the ranch but just for the land itself. One thing that I really was aware of while I was there was that we were on the Blackfeet Reservation, and this was land that once belonged to them before it became a reservation.


I have so much respect for the Native American culture, and I was thinking about that as I was working and walking around the ranch – that they were here before we were. And there's a spirituality about that and respect for that as well knowing that they have walked those paths, they have walked this land before any white people ever, ever came there. So I kept that in mind, to what they hold dear to them, and in turn holds dear to myself and hopefully to others.


Within my work, because I am a landscape painter, I really like to express how important the land is, all of it, from the teeniest, tiniest insect to the largest grizzly bear and everything that goes with that land. Those moments that I experienced while I was at the ranch resonated so much with me that this is what I would like to bring into my work and that hopefully it will also resonate with the audience.


When the audience sees it, I hope that they get it and maybe stop and think about the importance of this place. I just want to share how I feel about the land and particularly this place that I felt was so special to me.


That's so beautifully put, the way that you talked about honoring Native Americans and their culture - the people whose land this truly is. I think that's so powerful to evoke that through your artwork, to take people there, almost serving as a reminder as to who the true stewards of this land are and that we're just visitors here.


It comes from the heart.


Were there any specific challenges that you faced during the creative process? And if so, how did you overcome them?


There's always creative challenges. Whenever you go outside to paint, or whenever you're painting, period, there's always something you have to overcome. – And you don't know exactly what they are until you start painting and go, "Oh, I wasn't expecting this." Everything from bugs and bees to watching out for grizzly bears and those sorts of things. But you know, it always is a challenge because painting outdoors is never easy. I mean, it gets a little easier the more you do it; your skill level does rise to a certain degree. But you're always learning constantly. Every time I go out, I'm always learning something new, whether it be something to do with light or color or atmosphere or describing a specific tree or just getting into the land of, “What do I want to say about this?” and learning where to edit, what's not important to the painting, and what is. I think those kinds of things are always very, very challenging. You also have your physical challenges.


One morning it was rather windy and a bit cloudy, a little rainy kind of a situation, and you just have to rise up. There's some days you just think, “I just don't know if I feel I can do this.” But just like with anything else - like when I do winter painting and my hands are cold–you just have to suck it up and move forward. You just keep working.


I tell that to students and actually other artists when they ask, “How do you get through these things when you're challenged?” You just suck it up and you keep moving forward. You just deal with it. It's part of the process and it's part of what you're putting into your work.


For example, if it's really, really cold or really, really hot, you may want to try and express that in your painting and part of overcoming those elements is to put that in your painting. If it's really buggy and you got a few bugs on your painting, sometimes I like to leave them just to verify that this is a real plein air painting and it was buggy, and there are a few little guys who gave their life to art.


So, you know, I think no matter what it is you're challenged with when you're out there painting, it's a matter of sometimes just stopping, taking a deep breath, and moving forward. Relax, take a deep breath, and never ever forget that the biggest joy about painting in this capacity is the process and to enjoy the process and enjoy what you're doing and why you're out here.


Sometimes you need a little reminder that this is what you're doing and why you're doing it. So, yeah, you just, you just got to suck it up and move forward and stay focused.


That's such a life lesson overall.


Yeah, it is. Absolutely.

Did you find any surprising sources of inspiration that influenced your work differently from what you initially anticipated?


Not necessarily. I think one of my favorite subjects I love to paint in the landscape is water – in all of its forms, whether it be a lake, river, stream, creek, whatever. I was really surprised how much water there was there – I was pleasantly surprised. There was so much to choose from. I think my only complaint about the whole ordeal was there just wasn't enough time. I wish I had a few more days to get it all because I wasn't expecting as many water sources as there were.


Plus, I also wasn't expecting how much land there was. There was so much to explore. I could have been there a whole week and just kept going and exploring deeper into the ranch to enjoy all that that it has to provide. So, I think those are the two biggest things that surprised me, was how much water there was, how big the ranch was, and how much there was to explore.


How did your interactions with fellow artists during the retreat contribute to your creative process and the evolution of your pieces?


That's a really easy question to answer. You know, again, meeting some of the other fellow artists like Craig Birch and Rick Kennington – who I did not know. I knew their work, but I did not know them. I mean, these guys do some really good work. I've already known Turner Vinson, and like I said, Richie and Ken are very good friends of mine. Whenever I get together with those guys (Richie and Ken), I'm always inspired. They're such incredible artists. They’re some of the hardest-working young men I've ever met in the art field who are so passionate about their work and what they do. Whenever I get with those guys, I always walk away so incredibly inspired. I could hang out with them every day. Then, when I got to know the other guys as well, they were doing some really nice work, especially Rick. He did some really good, good work.


You know, for me, it's not a competition thing where, “Oh, man, this guy is so much better than me. I'm never going to live up to what he's doing.” But on the contrary, it inspires me. I want to learn from them. I see their work, and I go, “Oh, yeah, I get it. I see. I see. All right. That's good. That's good. I didn't think of doing this or a composition like this.” So again, I try to learn and just become inspired.


Again, I can't say enough how much inspired I am by Ken and Richie. Those guys always come up to such higher levels all the time and that influences me to also go to higher levels for myself. I just really, really enjoy that a great deal.


Inspiration comes from so many different sources. But when you can share and help each other become better artists – because this stuff doesn't belong to us, it's stuff that's been handed down for hundreds and hundreds of years – it's good for everybody. It's such a win-win situation.


When you get into situations like plein air events they can be competitions a lot of times with a lot of prize money out there. I've experienced this, and the artists can get a little, “Don't be looking at my work. This is mine.” It's not always that way, but more often it can be. With that competition mentality, you can see someone else's work and go, “Oh my gosh, I'm never gonna win a prize–look up there, look what they're doing.” It shouldn't be that way. To me, it should be, “Look what they did. Look at some great ideas. They're looking at it from a different perspective.” And then, again, you're inspired and you learn.


You always are learning from other artists and being inspired from other artists as well.

Were there any breakthrough moments or insights that you gained about your artistry while working on your paintings at Mad Wolf Ranch?


Just that I gotta keep working at it. That's always a thing. There wasn't what I would call a “breakthrough” or, or any “aha moments” for me. Those typically come later. I don't usually find them at the time. I find those moments more when I'm maybe in the studio - well, I guess I do find them out in the field as well, but not really.


I was just working and enjoying the work more than anything. If anything, that would be it, like how much I really, really enjoy what I do. It always reinforces the choices that I've made, that there are good and positive choices, because it's not the easiest life to live. There's times where you may have self-doubt, not so much regrets, but self-doubt. But then, when you get out to places like this and have these kinds of experiences, it definitely reinforces the love I have for it and the reason why I do it. That's always an aha moment for me – especially experiences like this that I had at the ranch that Cassens Fine Art provided for us.


Could you share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your artistic routine during the retreat from the initial concept to the final strokes of a piece?


When I approach my painting process, I like to think of it as a form of "window shopping." I take my time, avoiding the urge to immediately settle on a subject. Instead, I prefer to wander around, getting to know the place intimately. When I do find something that strikes me, I ask myself a series of questions to clarify my artistic vision:


What is it about this scene that compels me to paint it? What story does it hold, and what message do I want to convey about this place? Is it the trees, the way light plays on the water, or perhaps the reflections in the water? Is the time of day a significant factor, such as during a sunset?


These initial questions help set the stage.


Once I have a clear sense of what I want to capture, I begin considering various compositions. I use a small viewfinder to experiment with different sizes and formats—vertical, square, horizontal—whatever will best convey my intended message. Despite time constraints, I aim to make these critical decisions early on, ensuring I approach my painting with confidence in my purpose.


Next, I create a thumbnail pencil drawing on a small sketch pad. This sketch helps me map out the composition and determine the values in the scene. I identify the darkest darks and lightest lights, exploring the shapes and forms in terms of their values, including the interplay of darks, lights, and grays. These preliminary steps provide me with a solid plan before I start painting.

As the light conditions change, I rely on this thumbnail sketch to stay focused on my initial vision, rather than chasing the shifting light. This way, I ensure my painting maintains the essence of the moment when I first started.


Then, I transfer my drawing to the canvas. Unlike some artists, I prefer to create a fairly detailed drawing on the canvas, and this is where I recently adopted a technique that was shared with me by Ken. He introduced me to a waxy pencil called a Stabilo pencil, which doesn't smear with turpentine or paint, making it ideal for canvas drawing. It has positively impacted my process.


With my drawing in place, I move on to mixing my grays and preparing major colors. I emphasize grays in my work, as I believe nature contains more gray tones than people often realize, and grays offer a wide range of exquisite colors. Starting with these foundational elements, I fill in the basic shapes in a rather flat manner.


Once I'm satisfied with the values, colors, and shapes, I embark on the actual painting, making necessary adjustments. Painting, in essence, is about continuous adjustment and problem-solving. I refine the painting until there is nothing more to add. This involves a critical question:


Have I effectively conveyed the feelings I have about this place, capturing the essence of the moment?


If the answer is yes, I know I'm done.


This process, of knowing when to stop, is universal across various art forms. Whether it's painting, writing, acting, or filmmaking, there comes a point when you've told the story as intended, and adding more doesn't enhance the narrative. It's about recognizing the completion of your artistic expression, leaving it all on the canvas, page, or stage.

Speaking of stories, each artwork has a unique story to tell and evokes distinct emotions. Could you dive deeper into the stories and emotions you aimed to convey through your paintings from the retreat? Is there a particular piece that stands out where you made a strong effort to convey a story and emotion?


Certainly, each painting carries its own narrative and emotional resonance. In the case of the sunset paintings I created, they held particular significance for me. When you first arrive at a place you've never been before, you're still acquainting yourself with the land and its essence. Once you reach that point of comfort and understanding, you can begin searching for the stories within.


The sunset pieces, especially the first one I worked on in solitude near one of the houses on the ranch, spoke volumes to me. It was a breathtaking sunset with the water reflecting its beauty splendidly. The story I aimed to convey was deeply intimate with the land and the moment because I was entirely alone. There were no other artists or people around, just serene silence. I felt a profound connection.


For artists, sunsets are often referred to as the "golden hour" due to the warm, golden light that bathes everything. These moments are rare, and when I have the opportunity to capture them on canvas, it's an immense joy. The story I wanted to tell revolved around the extraordinary beauty of this fleeting time of day. Sunrise and sunset are fleeting, like a gift meant just for me. I aimed to convey this unique experience, as if I were sharing it with an alien visitor and saying, "Look at the incredible beauty we have here on Earth.” I was alone in that moment, feeling safe and utterly connected to everything around me. That's the story I wanted to tell. I'm not sure if I succeeded entirely, but I felt it turned out well.


In contrast, when we visited East Glacier, and I painted the mountains near Little Josephine Lake, it was a different experience. I don't often paint mountains, so I focused heavily on the technical aspects. I was learning how to paint mountains and sought to capture their essence. I wouldn't say I struggled, but I was deeply engaged in refining my skills rather than narrating a story.


When I returned home, I revisited that painting, making some adjustments. At that point, I felt more in touch with the story I wanted to tell and the emotions I wished to convey. It was a shift from a technical focus to a more profound connection with the scene. So, the difference lies in one painting's technical exploration and the other's deeper emotional connection.

What story did you eventually discover you wanted to tell with the more technical painting from Little Josephine?


When I initially started working on the painting from Little Josephine, the mountains presented themselves as a single, undetailed shape, creating an atmospheric quality. My intention was to convey the atmospheric depth that characterizes Glacier. You see, when there's a strong atmospheric presence, it adds tremendous depth to the painting. My focus was on capturing that initial sense of atmosphere.


As I progressed with the painting, that atmospheric quality began to dissipate. Additionally, the day was quite windy, causing ripples on the lake's surface, and I couldn't include the reflections I so enjoy incorporating when painting water. This was somewhat frustrating for me because I relish depicting reflections on water surfaces.


Towards the end of the painting process, the wind finally calmed, and suddenly, there were reflections. I swiftly removed what I had painted in the lake and included these reflections, and I believe I managed to accomplish that effectively.


However, the essence of the painting was primarily an emotional and atmospheric one, and I felt that I hadn't captured it as well as I had hoped. I got too wrapped up in the details and in the act of painting a mountain, rather than conveying what the mountain meant to me and the initial emotions it had stirred in me.


Upon returning home, I was able to infuse more of that original sentiment and emotion into the painting. While it may not be a masterpiece, I found satisfaction in the result. Every painting is a learning experience, and even though it might not be perfect, it contributes to growth as an artist. That's the beauty of it — there's always something valuable to take away.

Absolutely, it's true that every painting, even those that present challenges, offers an opportunity to learn and evolve as an artist. There's immense value in that.

Were there any personal connections, memories, or experiences that you infused into your artwork during the retreat, making it uniquely yours?


Yes, I believe there were. I tend to focus more on intimate scenes rather than vast vistas and grand landscapes. While some of the other artists also created beautiful intimate scenes, I think each artist's approach is akin to their unique fingerprint – distinctive and inimitable.


In essence, if you allow yourself to paint without the intention of setting yourself apart from others, your distinctiveness naturally emerges. It becomes an expression of who you are and what you wish to convey, and only you can do it in that particular way. Over the years, I've developed a specific style or look almost unconsciously. I realized it's a reflection of my true self, the way I naturally create. This sets me apart from anyone else.


So, to answer your question, I believe my art is distinctly mine. It carries with it the imprint of my experiences, emotions, and personal perspective. It's like leaving my unique fingerprints on the canvas.


Your response is truly captivating. It's a testament to the fact that no two artists are alike, and our art is a reflection of our individuality. I love how you describe it as leaving your fingerprints on the world; it's a beautiful and distinctive legacy that each artist leaves behind.

The show is just around the corner, scheduled for October. As visitors come to see your artwork, what kind of connection do you hope they make with your pieces, and what emotions or thoughts do you wish to evoke in them?


I hope that when people view my artwork, they can somehow experience what we experienced during our time at the ranch. I aspire to convey the same emotions and sensations we felt while creating these pieces. Of course, it's impossible for others to fully grasp the exact feelings we had because those were deeply personal experiences.


It will be intriguing to see the reactions of others who were part of the retreat when they view the show. I wonder if the essence of the ranch and the emotions we felt there will come through in the art. For me, it's all about sharing our experiences and hoping that the audience discovers their unique connection to the work. They might notice things that we didn't and interpret it in their own way.


Overall, I want people to recognize that Mad Wolf Ranch is an extraordinary and incredibly special place that's not too far from reach. Even if I don't have paintings of East Glacier in the show (as they mainly focus on the ranch), I hope they appreciate the uniqueness of this place and gain an understanding of what we, as artists, strive to convey and share with them. That's what I'm aiming for.

How has the retreat influenced your artistic journey, and do you anticipate it will continue to impact your future work?


The retreat has had a profound impact on my creative journey. It has reaffirmed my deep love for plein air painting, which is still my first passion. These days, with a busy schedule, I don't have as many opportunities to be outdoors and paint, but the retreat reminded me why it's essential for me. It's a way to reconnect with the land, with the core of what I do, and with the reasons why I became an artist in the first place.

It motivates me to make more time for outdoor painting. Often, when you become a professional and paint full-time, you end up spending a significant amount of time in the studio. When you do get a chance to step out, you realize the importance of staying connected to nature, observing, and continuing to work in whatever artistic capacity you choose.


For me, I never want to lose that connection because it's a constant source of learning and inspiration. I've been fortunate to paint in numerous incredible locations worldwide, from Italy's Tuscany to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, among others. Each time I'm outdoors, I feel truly blessed to do what I do.


This experience reinforces my determination to keep painting outdoors, to keep learning, and to continue growing. While I explore new artistic horizons in the studio, I believe it's equally vital to maintain that connection with the natural world. By combining the studio work with outdoor experiences, I believe I can keep evolving as an artist and as a person.


So, in a nutshell, the retreat has revitalized my passion for plein air painting and reinforced the importance of staying connected with the outdoors in my artistic journey.

Reflecting on your time at Mad Wolf Ranch, what personal growth or insights did you gain as an artist, and how do you foresee these reflections influencing your future work?


During my time at Mad Wolf Ranch, the experience of painting the mountains in East Glacier was significant for me. I've always wanted to paint mountains more frequently and improve my skills in that area. The retreat encouraged me not to shy away from this challenge but rather to embrace it and learn from it as much as possible. I realized that to get better at something, you need to keep doing it, even if it means facing your weaknesses.


Visiting Glacier National Park was a tremendous source of inspiration and influence. It reminded me of the importance of continuous growth and learning. There have been times when I've avoided painting mountains due to the fear of not being good enough. But this experience taught me that the key to improvement is practice and learning from each attempt.


As for how these reflections will manifest in my art moving forward, I believe I'll be more proactive in tackling subjects that challenge me, like mountains. I won't let fear hold me back. I'll also carry with me the sense of awe and wonder I felt during the retreat, which will undoubtedly find its way into my future work.

Can you share a specific memory or moment from the retreat that you believe will stay with you forever?


You know, there's something truly remarkable about the experience we shared during the retreat. It's something you don't come across often in the art world. I want to express how unique and special it was for all of us.


I’d like to give kudos to Michelle for orchestrating this rare and unique opportunity. It's not common for galleries to bring artists together like this. I’d also like to express big thanks to Karen and Doug Nelson for opening up their ranch to us; that was quite a gesture.


The presence of Michelle and Annie, a Cassens Fine Art staff member, added a profound layer to our relationships as artists represented by the gallery. I got to know Michelle, her husband, and their adorable son on a personal level. Meeting everyone and connecting in such a way made the trip even more exceptional.


I strongly believe this was part of Michelle's vision – to strengthen the bond between gallery artists, the gallery owner, and the artists themselves. Such a deep connection is something you rarely see these days. Back in the early days of my career, there was a genuine camaraderie between galleries and artists, a shared passion and interest that tied us together.


However, the experience at Mad Wolf Ranch was unlike anything I've encountered in my 25-year professional journey. It drew me closer to Michelle as a gallery owner, to her family, to the gallery itself, and to the fellow artists. It's inspiring to work with people you feel so connected to.


When you have that level of closeness with your collaborators, it propels you towards success. It's a forever moment, a memory that will always stay with me. The connection we formed in such an intimate setting was truly special.


While Michelle might not consider herself an artist in the traditional sense, her creative touch is evident in the way she manages the gallery. The curation, the way she presents our art, is an art form in itself. The gallery is her canvas, and she expresses herself beautifully through it.


On the last day of the retreat, I was left with this moment where I was thinking, “Wow. I just met all of these wonderful, incredible people I didn’t know before,” and I was overcome with the deep connection I felt with everyone there.


We were all sitting on the deck of the main lodge just spontaneously sharing our experiences with each other and having these deeply personal conversations with one another before it was time to leave. The sun was shining beautifully, we were sipping on hot coffee, and it was a very special moment and the most beautiful way to end such a beautiful retreat. It wasn’t curated, and it added an extra layer of magic to the whole experience. It was unplanned, yet it felt like it was meant to happen. Those moments will always hold a special place in my heart, as will the entire retreat.




“Stories of the Soil: Scenes From Mad Wolf Ranch” featuring works from the annual artist retreat hosted by Cassens Fine Art will be on display at Cassens Fine Art for the month of October, with an artist's reception taking place on October 6th, 2023. Gallery patrons are invited to come to the reception to view the pieces and meet the artists behind them, including Jake Gaedtke. 

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