DEEP GLOW | gouache | 8 x 10 inches

Local Knowledge: Fireweed

Artist Katie Cooney thought she might open a shop selling handcrafted local artwork one day, but she didn’t think it would be anytime soon. She was busy as a photographer, painter, and illustrator, applying her vibrant colors, spirit of adventure, and whimsical visual storytelling to everything from photo shoots for outdoor brands to illustrations for coffee labels, film festival poster art, and more. But when the opportunity arose to obtain a unique former motel space in downtown Driggs, Idaho, she couldn’t resist. In 2022, she opened Fireweed Shop & Studios in the motel’s former lobby and began selling carefully curated work by artists and artisans from around the Teton Valley and beyond. Former guest rooms are now artist studios — including one that Cooney uses for her projects and two she rents out. 

Much like the shop’s namesake plant, Fireweed owner Katie Cooney has pulled from her surroundings to cultivate a supportive community resource, both for her own artistic growth and success, as well as that of fellow artists, makers, and creatives. COURTESY OF K ATIE COONEY

The shop’s name comes from the fireweed plant, among the first flowers to grow after wildfires, springing up with spikes of brilliant fuchsia and magenta petals. “Fireweed is one of my favorite wildflowers that grows in our ecosystem here,” she says. “It’s known as a pioneer plant. It does a really good job pulling nutrients out of the soil and making them more accessible for other plants. … I wanted this shop to be a spot where I could thrive as an artist and creative, and also make resources and opportunities available for other artists and creatives.”

A beloved bright spot in Teton Valley, Fireweed is teeming with lively, vibrant goods. COURTESY OF K ATIE COONEY

Similarly, she is cultivating Fireweed as a place where artists can enhance Teton Valley’s burgeoning art scene while contributing to the greater Western art arena. She is working to develop a sense of community among local artists by bringing them together. “Something that I’ve observed as an artist living in Teton Valley is that we have a lot of really creative people, but, as happens in the American West and mountain towns, a lot of us keep to ourselves unless we have a reason to gather. So I’ve tried to create some reasons to gather,” she says.

As part of this effort, Fireweed hosts events like makers’ markets and eventually plans to host artist workshops and classes. This summer, the shop is hosting pop-ups for individual artists, providing an opportunity for creators to dabble in the process without an extensive commitment. Cooney wanted to offer a space where people didn’t have to sign up for months of Saturdays but could try it out just for a single day. “Committing to a whole season of markets — like a farmers market kind of setup — is really intimidating for a lot of creatives if they’ve never done it before,” Cooney says. 

With grins aplenty, local and regional artists gather for a commemorative snap after a successful pop-up art market at Fireweed. COURTESY OF KATIE COONEY

Having a brick-and-mortar location where people can browse and shop for art made by local and regional artists is also important. Cooney says a physical location means artists don’t have to rely on social media algorithms to reach audiences, which aligns closely with her “artist and maker first” ethos. It’s also a special treat for locals, who regularly drive an hour or more to shop or instead order online. “We’ve all gotten really used to shopping online in mountain towns, and I think a lot of people have really missed the experience of brick and mortar, especially after the last couple of years,” she says. People enjoy touching, examining, and thinking about items. Being able to shop locally is also very convenient for anyone who needs last-minute gifts or wants their items right away, instead of waiting days for deliveries, constantly checking tracking numbers, and hoping for timely arrivals. 

With only 220 square feet of space, Cooney has to curate the art she displays carefully. Since its debut, Fireweed has shared the work of more than 70 artists, displaying around 30 artists’ work at a time. Cooney rotates artists while keeping a few constants. Some artists are local to Teton Valley and Idaho, while others hail from farther reaches of the Rocky Mountain West or Pacific Northwest. Each offers a fresh artistic perspective to the valley — one Cooney hopes hasn’t been seen before. A majority of the work focuses on nature and place. Current artists range from Driggs ceramic artist Laura Vetsch and Teton Valley illustrator Wilder Designs to Colorado-based Après Ski Jewelry (which crafts earrings and necklaces from recycled skis) and creators offering hand-knit beanies, goat-milk skincare products, and other items.

Fireweed Shop & Studios breathes new life into a century-old building in Driggs, Idaho. COURTESY OF KATIE COONEY

Cooney also displays her work. As a visual storyteller, she incorporates vibrant colors and loves depicting landscapes and locations, particularly those endangered by climate change. She says that, rather than portraying “doom and gloom” around the climate conversation, she wants to tell climate stories in a less intimidating way, where people feel they can learn. “My approach is highlighting the beautiful things that are at risk, so people can connect to them and have some emotional investment in wanting to take care of them,” she explains.

As might be expected, much of her work is inspired by the beauty of southeastern Idaho. “I love just painting for the sake of painting something beautiful,” she says. “A lot of times, it does have a conservation focus, but other times it’s just that I’m inspired by the mountains I live in and want to paint them.” And people are equally inspired by her renditions. Her red foxes in snow, roaming bison, fireweed, lupine, and mountain pieces are all popular, as is her ever-present range of work depicting popular local landscapes, like the Teton range and river, and ski-themed scenes and gear. 

Cooney carries a conservation mindset into her management of the shop and is mindful of the business’s footprint. Instead of tossing the packaging from her shipments, for instance, a local ceramic artist reuses it, which supports the artist in the process.


As Cooney works to create more opportunities for artists locally, whether by an act as simple as sharing packing materials or by showcasing their work, she is excited about Teton Valley’s growing art scene, including its upcoming arts festival, the Teton Valley Home Grown Arts Fest held September 9 – 16, and other creative regional opportunities. Whether contributing to the Teton Valley artistic community or the Western art scene as a whole, Cooney believes that artists and creatives can help one another thrive, and she celebrates Fireweed’s role in that symbiosis.

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor who covers stories about mountain living, science, conservation, travel, and the outdoors for a number of outlets;

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