Painting the Rural West with Melissa DiNino

Having moved out to remote areas of Montana for work after college, Melissa DiNino found herself in places that were steeped in quiet contemplation. As a range rider, she worked at the heart of small ranching communities where she monitored cattle and tracked wolves and grizzlies by horseback. She learned how the resiliency of rural communities relies on its relationships – both human and non-human. When she began painting in 2018, she turned to the subject matter that was most familiar – the rural west and traditional ties to the landscape, but through a feminine lens.

Largely self-taught, DiNino works primarily with watercolors, inspired by her mother who has worked with the medium all her life. By 2020, she completed a large-scale private commission consisting of thirty-eight paintings and was named Southwest Art Magazine’s “21 under 31: Young Artists to Watch.”

She explores the softness found in a life that is often hard — one that is rooted in the rhythms of the landscape on which it relies — and exposes the beauty and simplicity of those moments that are easily overlooked.

Melissa is represented by Old Main Gallery in Bozeman, Montana. Her upcoming exhibition, titled With Silence Comes the Sight, will be open to the public at Old Main Gallery in October 2021. DiNino spoke with WLA’s Women in Ranching program director Amber Smith at Art of the Cowgirl in Bozeman, Montana in June 2021.


Topics Discussed

3:00 – Melissa talks about her journey to the West

3:13 – Working in the Centennial Valley, MT as a range rider

5:00 – Skills entering into range riding

5:30 – Melissa talks about her educational background in conflict resolution and biology

6:12 – Range riding as a tool in conflict reduction

10:30 – The value of knowing and trusting your horse

13:30 – Melissa shares a close encounter story from Tom Miner Basin

14:44 – Exploring Melissa’s career as an artist

15:42 – Melissa shares her passion for portraying rural life through watercolor

17:20 – On hope and art: “There is a compassionate solution to everything we face.”

19:12 – Melissa’s take on what stewardship means to her

19:37 – Embracing the entanglement

20:17 – Amber reflects on her changing place in the circle

Links from this episode

Follow Melissa on Instagram and Facebook

Check out Melissa’s website

Old Main Gallery in Bozeman

WLA’s Women in Ranching Program

Art of the Cowgirl

Big thanks to Art of the Cowgirl for hosting a wonderful event.

Thank you to Molly Manthei, whose art is featured in the opening of the video. Check her out on Instagram!

On Land is a production of Western Landowners Alliance, a non-profit that advances policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. Learn more about WLA’s Women in Ranching program here.

Hosted by Amber Smith

Produced by Zach Altman

Theme music by Jason Shaw

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Amber Smith has been living and working in rural America since 2004, beginning at The Home Ranch in Colorado, where she worked as a wrangler. She and her husband are currently raising their two children and working to steward a 53,000-acre ranch in Cohagen, Montana. She is the director of the Women in Ranching program of the Western Landowners Alliance.