The Wyoming Board of Geographic Names Wednesday denied a proposal to dub a red-rock promontory near Cody “Mount Jackson Pollock.”
Gregory Constantine, a Michigan painter and retired professor, submitted the application. After glimpsing the 6,621-foot butte on a trip to Wyoming and painting a series of artworks inspired by it, Constantine discovered it didn’t have a formal name and set out to change that through an official naming process. He proposed “Mount Jackson Pollock” to pay homage to the world-famous abstract artist, who was born in nearby Cody.
Though some touted the naming as a potent way to leverage the area’s ties to the artist, the proposal failed to garner widespread support in Park County. The Park County Commission in April rescinded its original endorsement of the name change after discovering the landmark was on private property.
“There’s a lot of problems with this proposal,” WBGN member Dan White said before the board unanimously nixed it.
Constantine, who was so taken with the peak that he called it “my mountain” and painted dozens of renderings inspired by its stratification, originally applied to name the peak after himself. He abandoned that effort after realizing naming criteria requires that a person be deceased at least five years before a landmark be named for them. He found a sixth-century pope named Gregory, but the naming board, which also considers local connections to the individual, rejected his application for the name “Mont Saint Gregoire.”
Constantine then landed on Mount Jackson Pollock, a nod to the massive art figure who has definitive Cody ties. Constantine revised and resubmitted his application.
When the board reached out to the Park County Commission to gauge local support in March, members were mixed. Pollock, some pointed out, moved away from Cody when he was still a baby and it’s unclear whether he had a true affinity for his birthplace. Others said embracing Pollock’s historic connection could benefit the region. The commission approved an endorsement by a slim margin.
The commission rescinded that endorsement roughly a month later in April. The state board took up Constantine’s naming application Wednesday.
Public comment submitted to the board was overwhelmingly opposed to the naming, WBGN Executive Director Shelley Messer told the board. In addition, she said, the Park County Commission contacted the manager of the Two Dot Ranch, where the butte is located, and the owner is opposed.
“So locally, I have not received any contact from anybody that has supported that proposal,” Messer said.
Board members said the proposal is problematic for a couple reasons. It doesn’t feel appropriate to tell the landowner what to name the butte, some said.
“I think we have to honor the landowners,” Messer said. “You don’t want somebody to come into your backyard and tell you what you can name your dog … I think the landowners’ opinion should weigh pretty heavy.”
Pollock “obviously was not raised in Wyoming, and therefore I would question his connection to the geographic feature,” member Jack Studley said. “His simple birth in Cody, Wyoming, really doesn’t make much of a connection at all, and that’s one of the criteria under the domestic names decisions.”
Member RJ Pieper said although he is personally influenced by Pollock’s work, he doesn’t believe the reasons put forth are compelling enough, especially in light of local opposition. “I don’t think this is a good fit for Wyoming,” he said.
After voting to nix the application, the board decided to reach out to Park County and the landowner to invite them to submit an application to formally name the butte with a name locals know it by.
Another Wyoming naming effort years in the works lurched forward, the naming board learned Wednesday.
This one aims to rename Mount Doane — a 10,551-foot peak in the Absaroka Range in Yellowstone National Park — to First People’s Mountain.
Tribal nations in Wyoming and Montana asked Yellowstone National Park to change the name of the mountain — along with Hayden Valley — in 2015 in an effort to scrub geographic names derived from men who were “proponents and exponents of genocide.”
The peak was named after U.S. Army Cavalry Captain Gustavus Cheyney Doane, a key member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition to Yellowstone in 1870 before it was established as a park.
A name-change application was submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which solicited opinions from the WBGN and Yellowstone. The state naming board acted on the matter in 2019, voting to rename Doane.
This week the National Park Service recommended the name change to First People’s Mountain, Jennifer Runyon, a U.S. Board of Geographic Names research staffer, told Wyoming’s board.
“Hot off the press as of 15 minutes before this meeting, I just received an email from the park service and they recommend approval of the name change for Mount Doane,” she said. “And they’ve asked that it be added to our next docket.”
That meeting is scheduled for June 9, Runyon said.