Photographer Sandy Powell is preserving the Eastern Sierra’s history one photograph at a time
This spring, photographer Sandy Powell opened, of all things, an art gallery in Walker. The gallery is in a little house with a front porch, right next to Walker Burger. Powell initially opened the gallery thinking she would sell her own photographs. After networking with other artists in the area, she realized that many of them were seeking a place to display their work.
“I’m not aware of another Western Art Gallery in California,” said Powell in an interview this week, adding that she thought it was fitting it be in Walker. “There’s still a lot of western life in the Eastern Sierra. We have wild horses, a rich history of shepherding, and there are plenty of people up here who still drive their cattle.”
She’s only been open for a few weeks, but she’s already showcasing the work of 16 local artists (one is from Texas), as well as her own photographs, which have been featured in Western Life Magazine. Powell specializes in photographing western scenery, as well as equine, wildlife, and portrait photography. “I try to capture and document the spirit of the old west in my photos… to keep the traditions and spirit of the pioneer alive,” said Powell in an interview this week.
Powell said that Walker is the perfect place to open an art gallery that features western art. “We’re only an hour from Bodie, and there are some real, working ranches in this part of the Eastern Sierra. I see more and more pack stations and ranches being sold every year, but I think people do value that way of life. They’re curious, they find it romantic,” said Powell. “Talking to friends in cities, it can be really hard to make rent as an art gallery. If not a major city, why not Walker? And besides, this is where we live, our home.”
Although she was drawn to California by the mountains, the west and its culture is in Powell’s blood. She grew up in Young, Arizona, a town only accessible by dirt road. “If you lived there, you either worked on a ranch, or for the Forest Service,” said Powell. “It was cowboy country.” Powell later worked in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and eventually relocated to the western slope of the Sierra.
A photographer of 30 years, her love of landscape photography, especially of ranges and ghost towns, eventually led her to take pictures of wagons and other artifacts of pioneer life. She eventually relocated to the Eastern Sierra, in part to photograph its striking landscapes and ghost towns, and because of the hiking and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Powell made it clear that, although she has photographed rodeos in the past, she’s far more interested in mule teams. She called the rodeo photography world a “bit of a good old boys club.” Instead, she favors the down-to-earth, unpretentious world of mule teams, packers, and waggoneers.