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Sandpoint Remembers Nature Artist

Beneath a stand of pine trees on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, nearly 300 people gathered Sunday to say goodbye to nationally known nature artist Stephen Lyman.

Family, friends and fans of Lyman turned out not so much to mourn him as to thank him for touching so many lives with his art.

“He brought so much beauty to the world through his artwork, and that continues to radiate,” Lyman’s wife, Andrea, said.

“I feel like he’s still very much here.”

Lyman, who lived in Sandpoint, died last month after falling from a rocky ledge while hiking in Yosemite National Park in California. He was 38.

The memorial service was held at Samowen campground about 18 miles east of Sandpoint, near where Lyman had gotten his inspiration for one of his popular paintings, “The Last Light of Winter.”

Andrea Lyman selected the spot because of its beauty and view of the lake, and she joked about having blue sky for the memorial.

“Steve always had the most incredible good-weather power. Thank you, Steve,” she said, looking toward the sky.

The memorial drew other local artists and Lyman’s close friends and neighbors as well as people who never had met the artist but who had been touched by his work.

“I am one of those who never knew Steve, but his work affected me deeply,” one woman told the crowd, crying as she read a poem.

The group, circled around an Indian blanket, a photo of Lyman and a bouquet of flowers, took turns talking about the artist.

Some played songs they had written; others, such as Ken Rose, recalled the artist’s humble and humorous side.

Rose remembered when Lyman first had the idea to capture reflective light on canvas and talked about painting a campfire.

Lyman brought the work by and unveiled it to Rose outside his home.

“He pulled it out of the back of his car and put it down on the ground. My dog walked over and lifted his leg on it,” Rose said, drawing laughter.

“Steve said, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.”’

But it actually was a big deal. That same painting helped launch Lyman’s career and make him one of the best-selling limited-edition print artists in the United States.

The campfire and the way Lyman captured the flickering flames and evening light became his trademark.

“There will never be a time in my life when I don’t see a ray of light coming down and think of Steve, because he was light,” Rose said. “I am going to miss him.”

A group of students from the Waldorf School honored Lyman with a painting of their own. The nearly 10-square-foot work is a silhouette of Lyman looking off into the sunset.

The students copied the work from a photograph Lyman had taken of himself standing in mountain twilight.

Many people spoke of Lyman’s great love for the outdoors and his respect for nature.

Pam Flaherty went to buy a tree to plant to remind her of Lyman. She left the nursery with five trees.

“This guy really affected my life,” she said.

Brooke Medicine Eagle, a close friend of the Lyman family’s, beat a drum and sang a Native American song for Lyman. She says she believes people choose their own time to die, adding that initially she “was mad at Steve for leaving.”

But she urged the crowd not to sit in sorrow but to learn from how Lyman looked at the world and saw its beauty. She told of hiking with Lyman and how he always was way ahead of everyone else.

“He would stop, look back with those beautiful blue eyes and say, ‘Come on. Come on. It’s not much farther. It’s really beautiful up here.’

“To me, that’s what he is doing now - saying ‘come on, come on.”’

A trust fund has been set up in Lyman’s name. Contributions will go toward scholarships for his two sons, ages 9 and 10, and for projects in both Sandpoint and Yosemite.

Donations can be sent to the Lyman Gallery, 100 N. First, Sandpoint.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo