Outdoors Report

If you were wondering, Dwight started it all

Posted 4/28/22

Dwight Gilbert struggled with his voice, which was weakened by cancer. But Gilbert was still witty and a bit mischievous.

Family members were surrounding him. Dawn, his wife, was playing host to …

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Outdoors Report

If you were wondering, Dwight started it all


Dwight Gilbert struggled with his voice, which was weakened by cancer. But Gilbert was still witty and a bit mischievous.

Family members were surrounding him. Dawn, his wife, was playing host to the couple’s adult children and many of their 20 grandchildren. I struggled to hear his voice even after the heavy wooden doors were closed, separating the adults in the den from the rambunctious kids in the kitchen.

Even if his voice was strong, I doubt he would have told me his greatest moments. 

“He’s humble,” his daughter Desiree Pettet said. 

While I had known where the family farm was located and was always curious about the lives inside, there were always excuses for not knocking on their door.

At least half of the trips past their home were made before sunrise; the other half of the time, I had blood on my clothes from hunting and processing wild game. There’s always an excuse if you look hard enough.

Dwight and Dawn Gilbert’s farm is fairly easy to find. Their bright purple farmhouse stands out in the middle of fertile agricultural fields northwest of Ralston, literally glowing in the shadow of Heart Mountain.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, the hundreds of large sculptures made of mechanical parts and painted in vibrant colors might spark a memory. 

Dawn, Dwight insisted, had collected the sculptures and routinely can be found out front generously applying paint after the Wyoming summer sun had turned the original vivid colors to pastels.

Many drivers slow as they pass or stop on the lane to gaze at the collection of steel turned to art. Most find it fun and have watched the evolution of the “garden” as it grew from a single sculpture to hundreds. The sculptures replaced a putting green Dwight had previously nurtured to near perfection. (Golf is also a passion of his.)

However, truth be known, don’t blame Dawn. She may have started the collection in the yard, but it was Dwight who started the couple’s passion for collecting art when he purchased a single, rarely-seen vase.

His appreciation for art started innocently when he wanted something to hold his newly purchased Denver Broncos flag. He’s a big fan.

He searched for quite some time and finally found a hand-blown, orange and blue vase created in what was then Czechoslovakia. Also called Bohemian glass or crystal, the art glass has been created for centuries in the eastern European country and continues to be crafted at many studios in what is now the Czech Republic. 

The more Dwight looked at the graceful lines of the object, the more he was moved to find out more about the style of art. And, of course, the more he researched, the more he had to have.

His collection grew, and he decided to join the Czechoslovakian Collectors Association. Eventually he found himself elected president of the organization. 

As a matter of fact, his collection grew so large, he could barely fit a television in the den. And in front of the TV are, you guessed it, more of his collectibles.

Meanwhile, Dawn was inspired by her beloved’s passion for objects of art. She started her own collection, beginning with glass figurines of cats and mice and eventually moving to cat-motif masks and the large outdoor sculptures.

Everyone has their own favorites in the yard. My personal favorite is a robot walking his dog – which reminds me of many of my happiest days. But then again, the huge working wind chime integrated with an antique tuba around back by the old-timey gas station – also painted purple – is pretty sweet, too.

The sculpture of a happy woman’s face casting its shadow on the couple’s big white barn catches my eye every time I pass. And all the flowers and plants made from gears and rims, steel rods and cut metal plating made me curious about artists who see nature in chunks of rusty metal.

Once I nearly ran off the road and into the adjacent field. If someone isn’t in my vehicle reminding me that I’m driving 45 mph, I kind of forget when I see something fascinating. Had I flipped my truck in front of the Gilbert’s house I may have met them earlier.

The family is known for helping those in need whether they know them or not. I might have also met Deputy Sheriff Chris Ivanoff on that same day, had I not have corrected before heading into the ditch.

Ivanoff is one of the artists whose work Dawn sought to collect. He creates sculptures using recycled machines and scrap metal in his studio east of Powell. 

“Instead of seeing vintage farm machinery turned into scrap, I want to give it a second life to honor the machines and farmers who faced hardships in the fields,” Ivanoff said.

After the Gilberts collected several of Ivanoff’s pieces, he invited the couple to his studio to offer a few tips on making their own art. Then, inspired by the deputy, Dawn and Dwight designed a few pieces on their own. One prominent piece proclaims their support for law enforcement. 

They also took a glass blowing class in Montana as they traveled the area together.

But mostly they just collected what they loved, turning their house into a museum of sculptures, paintings, glass art and other collectibles. 

It wasn’t always like this.

The couple’s daughter Desiree said the collection started after she and her two brothers, Derek and Dusty, had moved on to college and their careers. 

“My dad is very much like, ‘If a little is good, more is better,’” she said.

She also thinks he is an artist in his own right. 

“He definitely has a point of view, and it’s unique,” she said.

The two produced a coffee table book of Dwight’s art glass. A very limited edition, it highlights the very best of his collection and went to family and a few friends with similar passions.

In early April, dozens of friends of the Gilbert family rolled through their property on tractors to honor Dwight as he struggled with his illness. 

Dawn said that people had been out to their property all day to say goodbye to Dwight, but the parade was a complete surprise for him. Dwight’s family only told him he couldn’t take a nap and then wheeled him outside to see it. Despite being weak, he greeted each with love and enthusiasm.

“(It was) pretty impressive,” Dwight said, adding, “It was all my friends and neighbors. People I used to associate with every day.”

As his son-in-law Brandy Pettet passed in a tractor decorated with an American flag, Dwight surprised everyone and stood up to salute him. Both served in the U.S. Armed Forces. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen as Dawn embraced her husband, tears rolling down her cheeks.

At that very moment I realized it had been a mistake to allow excuses to stop me from knocking on the Gilbert family’s door. Had I never met him and learned about his life, I wouldn’t have found the inspiration to further investigate our region’s art, learned the true story about the wonderful sculpture garden and met one of the region’s most fabulous homesteader families.

There are wonderful people all across the Cowboy state. We just have to be willing to knock.

Dwight’s fight with cancer continues. Desiree said “he’s not ready to leave this world.” The family is sharing a quote from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas which “perfectly describes my Dad right now,” she said.

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” Thomas wrote in 1947.

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