March 2021: Wild Women Artists

During March, it is my pleasure to share Women’s History Month with you in celebrating and honoring generations of brave, thought pioneers whose advocacy for women’s rights have justly shaped our lives and values. The long march towards women’s equality stretches back as far as the New York Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, which advanced discussions towards finally securing Women’s Suffrage in 1920. What we now recognize as a month-long celebration formerly existed as a Women’s History Week until 1987 when Congress passed a law requesting the President “to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe such month with appropriate ceremonies and activities”.

In honor of Women’s History month, our Curator’s Corner creatively examines nineteenth century women’s dresses, displayed inside-out, to expose the restricting design constructions of the era. Paired with these remarkable artifacts we highlight a contemporary assembly of women artists working across diverse landscapes with a common goal for growth and expression.
Together as Nevadans, let us study the past, honor the present, and envision the future.

This month, it is my pleasure to present… Wild Women Artists!

Wild Women Artists

Wild Women Artists gathered for a group exhibition at Bartley Ranch in Reno, Nevada, 1996.
Front row, left to right: Jimmie Benedict, Suzanne Riley, Kathleen Curtis
Back row, left to right: Mary Lee Fulkerson, Kathleen Durham, Barbara Prodaniuk, Jill Altmann, Sidne Teske

“Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force filled with good instincts, passionate creativity and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, 1992.

The Art

Within a year after Clarissa Pinkola Estés published Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Jimmie Benedict had left Knoxville and relocated to Reno- then a population 240,000 -with her husband who had just landed a new job at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Benedict, a textile artist who meticulously collects and assembles swatches of textiles into wearable art, sought out like-minded interdisciplinary artists in her new desert surroundings.  This was the early beginning of Wild Women Artists.

Over two decades of networking and recruiting has established a trove of artistic talent continuing to assemble and advance the presence of women in the arts through biannual group exhibitions in Reno and Elko.  While the membership roster has changed over the years, with some early members now preferring emeriti status, their self-produced events, spanning disciplines from Truckee to Tuscarora, has created an artists’ guild of their own identity and along with it a faithful following.

This family-style cohort shares personal experiences and professional resources among its members as well as guest artists invited to join their group exhibitions which always include an element of philanthropy.

Take for example their unique partnership with the Scholastic Arts Award to provide an annual Wild Woman Emerging Artist Award to a high school girl in Nevada.  This award includes the opportunity for promising talent to exhibit their artwork in public settings with introductions that can develop artistic, social, and entrepreneurial skills.  Another charitable event of theirs honors Breast Cancer Awareness Month by holding a group exhibition with proceeds from sales and other raffled artwork benefiting the Healing Arts Program at Renown Health.

Despite an eclectic stable of artists working independently in their scattered studios, the collective has proven itself unified in their ability to convene and collaborate over expansive terrain.  Michelle Lassaline, the youngest of the Wild Woman Artists recruited from a 2015 group show in Reno credits a “sagebrush-scented magic” that naturally connects their geographies.   I find their thoughtful approach to inter-generational leadership and support yields impactful moments of history to women throughout our communities.

Estés’s novel, a creative exploration of female empowerment, was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for 144 weeks, nearly spanning the unforeseen creation of the Wild Women Artists and their group photo taken at Bartley Ranch in 1996.  As Kathleen Durham, a story teller, sculptor, and veteran the group, shared with me, “Once a Wild Woman…”.

For more information on the Wild Women Artists, please visit:

Barbara Glynn Prodaniuk
Raven’s Treasure, 2021
16″ x 12″ x 7″
High fired stoneware with crackle and bronze glaze, copper wings and door, steel wire and birch twig
Photo Courtesy Barbara Prodaniuk

Michelle Lassaline
Coyote, 2015
Paper mâché, wire, string, paint
Photo Courtesy: Emily Najera

Donna Jeanne Koepp
Young at Heart, 2021
10″ x 8″
Embroidered fabric, embellishments, vintage photograph
Photo Courtesy: Donna Jeanne Koepp

Mark Steel Wool Salinas is an independent art consultant in Reno, Nevada.  He serves as a board member for the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, Nevada Arts Council, and Americans for the Arts Public Art Network.  He is the former founding Director of the Carson City Department of Arts & Culture.  Salinas provides public art consulting, creative content, and program management for clients including Smart Growth America, Forecast Public Art, and the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.  Along with First Lady Kathy Sisolak and the Nevada State Museum, he established ‘The First Lady presents…’ and serves as art curator.