Local artist and writer Bridgette Meinhold can capture the nuts and bolts of a place, as well as its mood. Both skills lend themselves to her latest endeavors. She recently published her first book, Urgent Architecture – 40 Sustainable Housing Solutions for a Changing World, where she writes about sustainable housing in the context of natural disasters. One section is dedicated to innovative housing built to withstand catastrophes brought on by Mother Nature. Meinhold, who enjoys depicting anything but a blue sky in her artwork, is also currently part of a two-person show at Gallery MAR, Atmospheric Intentions, which opened on March 29.
From a very young age, Meinhold was drawn to the arts. But as someone who is equally right-brained and left-brained she pursued other interests in college. Originally from Oklahoma City, she earned an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from San Diego State University. She was lured to Park City by Utah’s world-famous powder, and found another reason to make it her home when she fell in love. But before settling down in her small A-Frame cabin in the hills above Park City, she went to Stanford and earned her masters degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on sustainability.
When she returned to the Beehive State, Meinhold worked as a sustainability consultant and later became a freelance writer for Inhabitat.com, where she writes about green design and architecture. “Along the way I also came to the realization that what I really, truly wanted to do was be an artist. My husband was really supportive of that and he built me an art studio out of a 40-foot shipping container,” Meinhold says. In the August 2011 edition of 15 Bytes, Kelly Green snapped a photo essay of the unique space. Meinhold shares the studio with her husband. He uses half of it as a workshop, where one of his projects is creating custom frames from reclaimed barn wood for her artwork. In her half of the space, Meinhold creates encaustic landscapes.
“I found encaustic through a workshop here in Park City at Spiro Arts. Discovering encaustic felt like coming home. It was a medium that resonated with me and I felt like it had a lot of potential. I could have stuck with oil or acrylic and honed my technique and found my style but there’s something about the Encaustic that was really interesting, and I felt like I could experiment with it a lot and kind of create something that maybe had never been done before,” Meinhold says.
Meinhold’s images of sprawling wilderness, rugged mountain peaks, and rolling fog, capture a sense of place, specifically the area surrounding her home and Park City. “I think what people like about my work is that it kind of feels like Park City, it feels like the area and so I think especially if they don’t live here they can take a bit of Park City home with them. What I’m doing is preserving memories. Each of these paintings comes from my own images and my own experiences. I’m trying to recreate that feeling of what it was at that moment and just like everybody’s memories, they’re hazy, and you make not remember all the details, but maybe you remember specific details, so that’s what I’m trying to do with my work,” Meinhold says.
In her latest show at Gallery MAR, Atmospheric Intentions, Meinhold will be showing work alongside her mentor Shawna Moore. The title helped both artists to set an intention for their work, and Meinhold explores the theme from several different angles with an emphasis on capturing the mood. “First we look at it from what’s physical: what the air is doing, what the clouds are doing and then afterwards it’s about creating what the mood is,” Meinhold says. “(My work) tends to be on that moody, sort of melancholy side, because the atmospheres that tend to create the most interest for me are not the blue days. Everybody can take a picture of a blue day, but fog to me is very interesting. I love watching it, and where we live, we’re often actually in the fog, just in the clouds, and we get to see that a lot. I find that really fascinating, seeing it change and move across the mountains like a curtain closing on a stage.” She notes that depending on the day and the light, the atmosphere can change the mood of a place and the way it is perceived by people.
Meinhold has been showing her work at Gallery MAR since 2010, and during that same year that she was approached by a publisher to write a book. They were familiar with her writing from Inhabitat.com and she had written a handful of book reviews for them. “They asked me if I wanted to write the book and I said ‘Yes please,” Meinhold says. Just as Meinhold explores atmosphere in her artwork, the book explores sustainable housing in the context of moodier skies that can devastate homes. Meinhold tackled Urgent Architecture – 40 Sustainable Housing Solutions for a Changing World by dividing the book in to five specific chapters. “I wanted to write about emergency houses, temporary shelters, prefab, affordable housing, and then innovative houses that were built specifically to withstand disasters. So within those five categories I was able to look for specific projects and I was trying to find projects that not many people had seen before and also had actually been built. I didn’t want any renderings of concepts, I wanted houses and shelters that somebody had actually made and could prove that yes, this works,” Meinhold says.
The book features homes from around the world, including the Windcatcher House in Bluff, UT. The home was built by students involved with Design Build Bluff, a non-profit organization that builds sustainable homes on the Navajo reservation in the area. Meinhold selected the home for her chapter on innovative houses. It’s built off-grid and features a unique heating and cooling system built around a central hearth. “In the winter you run a fire in there, and because it has earth walls, that heat spreads throughout the house. And then in the summer, they rely on principles of backwards cooling. They change out a couple of things in the tower, the hearth, and they put these pads inside the tower,” she says. The pads are kept wet through the use of a drip line and when air passes over them cool air comes down through the hearth and into the house.
“I chose the Windcatcher House because of some of the more interesting building techniques that the students chose to use, and also because it’s in the desert. A lot of people are moving toward this region and living in the desert. I wanted to show that yes, you can build really sustainable houses despite the weather,” she says. Among the 40 homes, she also features one in Southeast Asia that rises with floodwater and a temporary shelter conceived by a group of female architects based in New York who designed a structure that can be built from shipping pallets.
“Architecture already has a lot of answers that we need to provide for ourselves and we just really need to implement them and be smart about it,” Meinhold says. “What I would really like is for local and state governments to start stepping up and making plans for natural disasters and emergency preparedness. It’s time for us to start thinking about it.” She practices what she preaches and lives in a modest cabin with a small “footprint.” It’s built to withstand the weather conditions of Park City and the A-frame design naturally sheds snow. Her nearby studio, mentioned earlier, is made from a reclaimed shipping container.
Another book may be in Meinhold’s future, but for now she will continue to write for Inhabitat.com and create art in an atmosphere where she hopes for positive change through green architecture.
Dale Thompson has a B.A. in Liberal Arts from The Evergreen State College and an Masters degree in communications from Westminster College. Her writing career includes work for a local theatre, journalism in Park City, and freelance contributions for various nonprofit organizations.