By Ashley Lodato
Cattle ranching, art, and the natural beauty of the Methow Valley are juxtaposed in a new installation at the top of Patterson Mountain.
When hikers reach the summit of Patterson Mountain, they’re greeted by a 360-degree view of the Methow Valley, with the Pasayten Wilderness and the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. They’re also greeted by signs of the cattle grazing operation that takes place in the area, including what has been for years a functional but aesthetically uninteresting concrete cistern, which stores water used to fill stock troughs on the hill’s flanks.
The first time Methow Valley resident and artist Laura Ruud saw the cistern, she said to herself, “Oooh, a blank concrete wall. That’s a perfect canvas for a mosaic.”
The idea lay dormant in Ruud’s mind for years, until one day in 2017 when she and her husband Casey were on vacation, celebrating their retirement after selling the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. “We were with Kyrie and Kathleen Jardin,” Ruud says, “and Kathleen and I were having coffee and talking about mosaics and artwork. I told her about my idea for a mosaic on the cistern, and she had so many ideas.”
Jardin told Ruud, “You know, there are four seasons, and you can hike Patterson Mountain in all of them. That cistern has four sides. What if you made a mosaic that celebrated the four seasons?”
That mental image provided Ruud the design concept she needed to start creating the mosaic installation, which consists of four circular glass tile mosaics, each celebrating one of the seasons. Ruud, who now divides her time between Tucson and the Methow Valley, said “I made winter and summer in Tucson, and spring and fall in the valley. It took a couple years, working on and off.”
Ruud told few people of her plans, but once she completed the mosaics she contacted Jim Pigott of Moccasin Lake Ranch, which leases the Patterson Mountain area for grazing. Pigott, who visits the mountain for hiking as well as for moving cattle and water troughs, was enthusiastic about “the idea of having a seasonal representation of the valley” installed on the cistern. “The cistern wasn’t meant to be attractive,” Pigott said. “It’s just used to carry water down to the troughs. Now with that mosaic, it will really stand out.”
Pigott worked with Casey Ruud on the details for attaching the mosaic to the cistern. Outdoor glass tile mosaics are notorious for suffering water and wind damage, and Patterson Mountain gets buffeted by both elements, particularly in the winter.
Pigott and Casey Ruud settled on an installation system suggested by Pigott. “Years ago and in a different lifetime I was in the structural steel business,” Pigott said. “So I thought that in order to separate the mosaics from water running down the cistern, they could set the mosaics off the face of the walls by about ¾ inches with square pipe attached to the cistern. That will allow the water to run behind the artwork, not down the face of it.”
“Time will tell whether it was a good suggestion!” Pigott added. “Nothing is permanent,” Laura Ruud said. “It’s not intended to last a hundred years but it would be nice if it lasted a few!”
Two weeks ago, Casey Ruud and Dan Kuperberg took the four completed mosaics and installed them on the cistern using the pipe method, first painting a black band of concrete sealant that not only makes the vibrant colors of the mosaic pop, but, more importantly, protects water from seeping through. Ruud also plans to create a small lip that runs above each mosaic, to divert water.
Laura Ruud called the mosaic “a gift to the community,” explaining that public art is a way to acknowledge affection and respect for the people of this valley. She has had the mosaics professionally imaged, and those images have been made into wall hangings that are sold at the Purple Sage Gallery as well as cards that are available at the Mazama Store, the Sun Mountain Lodge gift shop (which reopens in mid-October), and the Valley Goods store on the TwispWorks campus. Ruud will use proceeds from the sale of the cards to support other community projects in the valley.
After many years as a working artist and business owner, Ruud is retired and no longer takes commissions. “I want to make what I want to make, and I have the luxury in my life to be able to do that,” she said. “It’s so nice not to work under big time deadlines.”
The “gift for the community” will be both sought out and discovered, as hikers find their way to the top of Patterson Mountain. It will be a delightful surprise for them, Pigott said. “When I’m up there I often run into other hikers and they all say what a great view it is from the top. No one ever comments on the cistern. Well, now they will. It’s going to be fun to have that art up there.”