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Washington Voices

Cheney artist tells his stories with intricate ink drawings

Buck Mountain is seen at home near Cheney, with his pen and ink work titled “What the Hell Went Wrong.” (Dan Pelle)
Buck Mountain is seen at home near Cheney, with his pen and ink work titled “What the Hell Went Wrong.” (Dan Pelle)

Buck Mountain is a lot like his artwork: a bit of an enigma.

His work looks a bit like a puzzle; traditional images including wildlife and cowboys and Indians mixed with a sort of strange language (one piece even contains profanities banned by the Federal Communications Commission hidden within.) Akin to crop circles and cave drawings, his work tells stories and somehow resonates with a viewer. Deeply intricate, the artist and his work are rooted in nature and the world’s ancestral collective with hints of the 21st century and beyond.

Mountain, who is in his 60s, was given his name in the early ’70s. “While on a hunting trip in the Colville National Forest, I came upon a hunting camp,” he explained on his website. “The hunters were natives from the Colville Tribe. While sharing their camp, I related my dream of living full time in the wilderness. After listening to my vision, a young woman told me if I was going to live in the mountains, I needed a mountain man name. She gave me the name Buck Mountain.” He has used the name ever since. “Buck Mountain is my name and Buck Mountain pays taxes.”

Mountain was born in Los Angeles. When he was 13, his father came home from work as an executive and announced that he was taking his family north. Mountain remembers the day vividly. “It was a Wednesday. Caught in a traffic jam, my father watched an old woman die alone on an island in the midst of the traffic.”

Knowing this story, a viewer might conclude that Mountain’s work touches upon the notion that while we cannot completely escape the modern world, we can “go back,” live off the land and find joy.

Mountain’s family hit Cheney and settled there. Mountain worked on ranches and, after graduating from Cheney High School, he went to the mountains. Inspired by the 1969 film “My Side of the Mountain,” Mountain learned by doing. “You learn by ‘getting bit’ a time or two,” he said. He built about a half-dozen log cabins, trapped, panned for gold and did odd jobs including making tepee poles. He also bought and sold property and six years ago he retired from his job as a firefighter.

Now, Mountain resides on about 15 acres in Cheney with his wife. They grow their own food that they pickle, dry and can. A large tepee sits on the property where they often go to relax or sleep. When Mountain isn’t communing with nature, he is drawing stories with ink. He has shown his work in Montana, Idaho and Washington. Locally, his work is displayed at the Gallery of THUM, 2910 N. Monroe St.

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by email