Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Walking the Talk, Promoting Conservation of Wild Country

In the summer of 1972, I finally hiked six miles into Wheeler Geological Area. On the Rio Grande National Forest map it showed up as only a single section of designated land - 640 acres that had – well – geological significance.

I had noticed it on the map before and was intrigued being already obsessed with “weird rocks” since childhood. The few photographs that I had seen of the area paled in comparison when I arrived at the volcanic ash formations nestled right below the timberline late in that summer afternoon.

Massive volcanic activity starting 30 million years ago built what we now call the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. The eruptions continued for millions of years creating vast lava and ash flows that accumulated thousands of feet of  layered volcanics.

The lavas and ashes were no sooner laid than water, wind and ice began to tear them down. The glaciers came and went and came again in several cycles. There, below the cap of lava flows at 12,000 feet above sea level, the buried ash and lava flows were exhumed, sculpted into fantastical shapes and configurations.

Such formations are peppered throughout the San Juan Mountains, but these at the head of one canyon approaching timberline are unusually spectacular- they look like the ruins of some mystical city when viewed from the meadows below.

I had never seen anything like it. To me it was also a prize that only those who really made the effort to get into this remote area could see and experience. It afforded an intimacy undiluted by masses of looky-loos that one runs into when visiting easy-to- get-to roadside attractions.

I fell in love.

When I returned from my first trip to Wheeler Geological Area, I was enthralled with this stupendous place. I wondered how such a jewel had not been sansationalized in some way.

Its uniqueness had been recognized for quite some time.

The first mention of the area was from a government survey crew in 1859 who named the place after General George Wheeler, the man in charge of the survey program- pretty sure he never saw it. Who knows what the Ute Indians thought of the place or what their name for it was - I would love to find out.

Its prowess as a spectacular site was cemented when it was declared a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903- pretty sure he never saw it either.

In the 1950's the monument was turned over to the National Forest Service because its remoteness was a real obstacle for the Park Service. In a way, it probably helped to veil the area somewhat- took it off the radar for a while.

But then the Forest Service started to eye the ancient spruce stands that surrounded the open parklands below the former monument. To sell the idea of pushing roads into the area for logging they decided to use access to Wheeler as the excuse.

Ironically, this plan was set to go into motion five years before my initial visit. The Forest Service had funding cuts that curtailed the plans. The plans were still on the books when I learned about them as I investigated the status of the land in question. I was infuriated about an agency that I thought should cherish such a pristine setting rather than promote its developemnt! How could they do such a thing?

I have since ventured into Wheeler from just about every direction whether scaling over alpine passes or following exuberant creeks up into the highlands. On one occasion I came in on the only four- wheel drive access and arrived at  the conclusion that it was quicker, shorter and easier on the kidneys walking in rather than enduring this treacherous route by vehicle.

After witnessing this wilderness gem in its remoteness, the proposal to engineer a full- fledged street car road that would accommodate logging trucks, and therefore passenger cars, was abhorrent to me. Many of us have seen heavily used picnic and camping areas where the shrubs are festooned with paper plates and pampers while chipmunks scamper off with pilfered chicken wings.

I did not want to see this happen to Wheeler.

By my objection to recreational "progress", I entered into the world of public- resources conflict. Unlike private lands, the National Forests are governed by rules and regulations which have been forged over the years and that have resulted in a mishmash of variable and sometimes conflicting goals for lands held in the public domain.

I soon found that there were many players with vested interests in resources such as lumber, minerals, forage and other "assets" that generated income. In direct opposition to this harvesting of nature in this manner is my viewpoint that some of the natural treasures in the Rocky Mountains are best left to their own designs with natural processes controlling them -in a word, wilderness.

The first opportunity that came up to protect Wheeler after my first trips was some legislation designed to protect areas in the West as National Wilderness Areas.

This inaugural bill was designed to protect thousands of acres in several Western states. The United States Congress had set up hearings to discuss the areas targeted to be included in this bill and one of them was Wheeler Geological Area and its surrounding alpine parks. Congress had a hearing scheduled in Creede - an old mining town and only a few miles away from Wheeler. I showed up for the hearing and soon had a rude awakening. I came to discover that some of my neighbor's philosophies on what to do with public lands were strikingly different from my own. 
I found staunch and unyielding opposition to protecting any National Forest lands surrounding the mining town of Creede and even now I find it somewhat paradoxical that the men and women living in such close proximity to the natural wonders in the mountains of the West regard them in an entirely different manner than I do.

Of course, in those days there was still some mining activity and a healthy timber industry in southern Colorado. So it was not really a surprise that many were opposed to leaving things alone and open to whatever cash-in on resources that might pop up. Even likely wilderness supporters such as the sportsman; the hunters and fishermen, regarded any regulations controlling access as an affront to their way of life.

That day, as I witnessed person after person testify against any wilderness designation for any land, any where, any time, I realized that to protect Wheeler I would have a long, hard struggle ahead of me.

When the Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1976 was passed by Congress, Wheeler Geological Area was not a part of it. It did, however, initiate my advocacy for protecting wildlands on the planet. It was eminently evident that southern Colorado needed wilderness champions. I signed up immediately and continue to do so.

More to come.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Plein Air Adventures- or- What Do Ya Think Yer Doin?

Quite often in painting on location, I set up in places that at first appear to be out of the way and quiet.
Many times, although they may not seem to be so, I have set up in spots that turn out to be on private land (or perceived to be private land) and thus am "challenged" as to- "what da you think yer doin' ?" One painter related that he would load up 5 pound bags of potatoes (being from the San Luis Valley, major Potatoville) as bribes to soften property disputes with skeptical natives.

This painting site was off on the right of way along a county road in Conejos County, Colorado. It is on the way to my friend and painter Charley Ewing's home and I have traveled it many times. I have been drawn to this old adobe set off the road nestled in some fine mature cottonwoods and check it out every trip I take. The adobe has been a repeat subject matter for me, painting it several times.
So I set up for a larger plein air panel - 16 x 20, and, as anticipated, it took two days to capture the scene. I did not have any territory issues and being within the San Luis Valley, the potato bribe thing wouldn't have worked anyway. Like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo.
What did transpire- and a partial reason it took me two days to complete- was a steady stream of folks curious as to what I was doing. They would pull over and we would blab about the area, the many adobe remnants in the neighborhood and the verdant bottom lands saturated by the acequias coming off the Conejos River.
Several of the visitors were from the Espinosa and Mestas clans, two families that pioneered this area coming up from what is now New Mexico in the 1800's. So here are some other historical tidbits that I learned during both painting days:
- The county road CR 17 is known as Espinosa Lane, named after the now-sixth-generation community that peppered the area with farmsteads, many older homes now abandoned and melting back into the earth.
- There was an attempt to renovate the adobe closest to my paint site, although not the subject of the painting. There was such an infestation of "water" snakes (garter) that they gave up.
- The subject of my painting was an original Espinosa family building, now vacant. One of the informants grandfathers was around when the Espinosas took in a frozen company of Mormons who had trekked over the Sangre de Cristos in the dead of winter. Of the 40 that left Pueblo only 17 arrived in desperate need at their doorstep. The Espinosa's harbored the travelers and butchered a calf. Shortly thereafter, the survivors helped found the town of Manassa just a few miles north.

All in all it was very poignant for me, and I hope for my visitors as wells, as we passed a pleasant day sharing the bounty of the acequias with stories and appreciation for the vibrant and verdent bottomlands along the Conejos.

- A short distance to the south of my painting spot is the community church known as La Capilla de Santo Nino which served the Espinosa community for over a hundred years. It collapsed on October 21, 2016 from old age. Very sad.
"Bounty of the Acequia" plein air oil on linen, 16" x 20"
This painting will be part of the Plein Air Painters of New Mexico 8th Annual Juried Members Show opening with a public reception at the Sorrel Sky Gallery, 125 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, NM, 87501 from 5 to 8 pm on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. The show will be open for regular business hours until Nov. 27. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

C.Waters Annual Artist Showcase and Sale, Creede, Colorado

Chere Waters has nurtured a family of artists whose work populates the walls of her newly reopened C. Waters Gallery in Creede, Colorado. She will feature this select group in the second year of her newly relocated and named C. Waters Gallery after six previous years in a space attached to her home on the hill overlooking the town.

That's me on the left at last year's grand opening. Chere is in the center in black. Paul Stone, recently deceased after contracting ALS, is in the wheel chair in front. I call him Dr. Boom. You can check out the trailer for a project about his life at this link:

The reception and sale will be on Saturday, July 16, 2016 from 3 to 7 pm in the gallery next door to the world famous Creede Repertory Theater on Main street. My fellow featured artists are Suzanne Reed Fine, Kristian Gosar, Aaron Brown, Brownie, Hanna Waters, Colleen de Santos, Peggy Stenmark, Randall LaGro and Alicia Hess.

Here is one of my paintings - " Threshold to Loch Vale" 24x30" oil on linen

Chere's receptions are legend- great fun, food, artists and libations-and I am sure this one will not disappoint. If you are in the area, Creede is a hoot with the theater, dining and the magnificent San Juan Mountains. Come on by.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Taos Lilac Festival, Painting the Blooms

"Crabapple Pond" 16x12 oil
Available at the Copper Moon Gallery105 Kit Carson Road. Taos,NM, 87571
I will be painting blooming trees in front of the Copper Moon Gallery in Taos on Saturday, May 21.
For the past three years Taos has celebrated the blooming Spring with a festival of lilacs. This year the town has scheduled the Taos Lilac Festival from Friday, May, 20 to the following Friday, May 27. Part of the festival is walking tours around the historic downtown district. Near the junction of the Camino Real and Kit Carson Road within in this historic zone sits the Copper Moon Gallery.
I have had the privilege of showing in this gallery for the last couple years and will be painting outside the gallery on Saturday, May 21.
I will be manning my plein air accoutrements- French easel, sun hat, paints, brushes, sunscreen, umbrella, water, coffee.
However, I an anticipating fresh cookies may be lacking.......

I am also the current featured artist in the gallery and have a copious collection of recent paintings on display and for sale.

I hope you will find the time to hang out in this magical town in blooming brilliance and stop by to chat and visit while I paint a rendition of floral Taos. Besides lilacs, there are assorted fruit trees and bushes from apricot to cherry to one of my favorites- crabapples.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Great Painting Spots Show and Reception

You are all invited to come and see a collection of paintings that I have produced over the years.
When hanging the show in this panoramic space on the mezzanine in the Alamosa Hospital, I was wondering what to call it- it seems art shows are supposed to have clever or enticing titles.
Being a wordplay fan, I was trying to find a unifying theme for the collection as it was going up.
There didn't seem to be a commonality beyond two or three pieces in groups.
There was a grouping from Ireland, one from California and another about trees in general. One impression for me was that the show was a travelogue, sort of tourist snapshots in places that I had  painted- all over the map.
That's when GPS came to mind- the global positioning system. I could use GPS to fine tune the exact place on the earth's surface where each piece had been painted. But I had not done so in the past, although I might start.
Instead, I acknowledged that each art work was executed from a particular vantage point that offered the optimal attributes of a great painting- they were all great painting spots- also GPS.
Wordplay: enticing and painfully brilliant!
So please come on by to San Luis Valley Health Regional Medical Center, better known as the Alamosa Hospital at 106 Blanca Ave. from 4 to 7 pm on Friday, April 8. The show is in the Artrium which is on the 2nd floor.
See you there!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Art for the Endangered Landscape 2015

We are putting together this Art Day on Wolf Creek Pass. Mark your calendars and break out your paints and dust off your camera!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The White House- Refurbished

From the title of this post do you think I am trying to work the search engine thing to attract politico's? I know there is money in politics- maybe I can crowbar some into the art world.

 White House Ruin, photo, as it is today

Painter friend Roger Williams recently put out a pic of a painting he completed - a rendition of the White House Ruin, probably the most stunning setting for any Ancestral Pueblo structure in the southwest. It was a great painting- I liked it so much I copied it! Roger's and maybe another 100 or so that have been done since the discovery of the ruin in the 1880's.
Roger's painting reminded me of the several times I have been to Canyon De Chelly in northeastern Arizona, where White House is just one of dozens of ruins peppered about the canyon. It spurred me to gather up materials from my trips and attempt a rendition of the White House, tucked in a cavern beneath the huge escarpments of patina-stained sandstone.
I painted the scene on location many years ago and the painting sold immediately. I wanted to do another right away but, until now, had not gotten around to it.
I have learned much about this structure over the many decades. One of the nuggets from my recent research was that these sandstone block buildings were either constructed by Chaco People, or supervised by them. I am referring to the Ancestral Pueblo culture centered around Chaco Canyon in what is now northwestern New Mexico.  These engineering farmers flourished throughout the Four Corners region for a centuries ( 900 to 1200 AD), building networks of connections leaving their distinctive masonry pueblos scattered throughout a vast and spectacular region.
The Chaco builders at White House left behind tell-tale engineered, pre-planned thick base walls built to hold the weight of the multiple stories above them that have since crumbled. They were visionary builders who knew well in advance the completed height of their constructions.
We know the canyon bottom pueblo was four stories tall because of the pictographs seen today far above the canyon floor. They were painted from the rooftops of the fourth story. We can still see where the ladder left its rub marks on the cliff face from the forth floor of the lower pueblo. The ladder was the only way to get up to the cave where they built a tidy complex. The uppermost rooms of the cave complex had its south facing walls whitewashed- a singular rarity and the only one I am aware of. What a tantalizing mystery- who lived in the White House?

Floor Plan of the White House

showing both the upper and lower sections.

As I progressed through the painting I got to the point of rendering the ruins. One of my musings when looking at ruins is imagining them when they were actively lived in- with fresh mud on the walls, covering the meticulous stonework, tools and pottery scattered about work areas, the canyon echoing the soft voices of the daily village life.
So I did just that.
Tree ring dates showed that almost all of the timbers used to build the pueblo were cut around 1070 A.D. I imagined myself back then and painted what I thought what may have been there.


"The White House, 1072 A.D."  oil on linen   24" x 18"
Thus, here is another peek into the past. If you like this post , and painting, you may be interested in my previous post on my reconstruction of Penasco Blanco in Chaco Canyon (Exploring the Past, Feb. 2014)