Frontier Fellowship Report: Spence Kroll

When I think of Green River, I think of an incredible silence. The highway can barely make a dent in the profound quiet that pervades this landscape…it is wonderful. I think of all the space and light, distant textures and incredible scales – the vast openness of the surrounding high desert and the soaring heights of the book cliffs. I think of people. I remember a group of passionate and wonderful individuals that work incredibly hard and relentlessly. I think of a small town filled with western lore, melon traditions, perfect donuts and lost ghosts.

I work as an architectural designer for a design / build company in Portland, Oregon. I am interested in pragmatic space, useful furniture and outdoor living – this influences the way that I think about design, architecture and life. I love the work that I do now and the freelance projects I have been able to execute. Someday though, I hope to establish or join a practice / collaborative / studio, etc. that focuses on quality and affordable design, construction and adaptive reuse; this is in response to shifting living, commerce and production dynamics within our communities.

In light of these interests, I had to apply to the Frontier Fellowship. When I arrived in Green River in early October, I had a general idea of the project that I would be working on – designing and building a portable display system for the work of the Epicenter and other participating fellows. These units would live in a vacant storefront across from the popular tourist joint, ‘Ray’s Tavern’. I truly enjoy this type of project – the creation of something that is adaptable, easily moveable, straight- forward in function but also elegant as an end to itself. Simplicity. Ease of use.

I had done some similar work this summer for a friend that does letterpress in Portland, and it was hard to divorce my headspace from that specific project. I spent the first few days in the basement of the Epicenter drawing up basically the same thing I had done previously, slightly overwhelmed by a deadline and all that comes with being in a new place. Like all design processes, you need to get out the initial ideas first, think about what is crappy about it and then go outside and not think about it for a day or so.

I went on a day trip, talked to Maria, looked at some fences. Googled wagons. Climbed into a canyon, smelled some pinyon, drank some beer. I Looked at the desert, got really dusty, listened to birds, saw deer tracks. I thought about cliff walls, pictographs, lazy tourists, The Spanish Trail, The Oregon Trail, wagons, stiles, caravans. Portability. Ropes, knots, setting up camp. Fires, cans of beans, Boy Scout memories, camp chairs and roadkill. Cactus, juniper, sagebrush, scrub pines, cottonwood. Desert sunsets.

The final form of the project is inspired by the portability of the desert caravan. Each system is comprised of two objects; the large, trestle leg ‘rack’ and the display ‘frame’.


The trestle rack has pointed, steel reinforced feet, designed to be deployed on uneven, sandy terrain.

The display frame of the system is suspended from ropes on the rack and anchored by integral cleats.

Each frame has a removable homasote back for the display of flat and graphic media as well as four removable shelves for the display of smaller objects. The large rack is painted white to reflect the light of the surrounding landscape. The frames have been left natural to draw attention to the suspended unit and the media on display.

Total immersion into the desert produced this project and the outdoor shop that I worked in was paramount in its creation. The deeply cold mornings, warm afternoons, swarms of gnats and wonderful, utter silence of locale and mind. I am thankful for this opportunity to think and produce with this clarity.

With my interests and pursuits that led me to the Epicenter, I feel that my time here has shown me so much about the possibilities of inspiration, production, living and community. I have had an chance to do the things that I love and gain invaluable insight in a beautiful place.

While, like most academic experiences, it is expected to sum up your thoughts and learned moments into a clean statement, but this place warrants so much more than just a blanket thesis. When I head back to Oregon, I will think about what the Epicenter and Green River are for a long time…though the feeling is full, warm, composed and right.

Some things that have been further reinforced or I have learned while here:
-Community, dialogue and commitment is key for our future.
-Share meals and care for others.
-Be intimidated, scared and respectful of your landscape.
-Take no relationship or resource for granted.
-Turn off and tune in.
-Learn by doing. Build, build, build.

Epicenter and Green River, thank you for everything. -Spencer Kroll

Windows on Broadway are made possible by a Utah Division of Arts & Museum‘s Random Act of Art grant.