Inspiration after the storm: Artist canvases mountain newspapers’ coronavirus headlines

GRANBY — Winter Park artist Shannon Foley Henn has always loved storms, in part because of the way a heavy downpour or severe snowfall slows the world down.

But in March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill, causing Henn to seek shelter from a different kind of storm and inspiring her to create a unique, 4-foot-by-4-foot acrylic painting paying homage to the times.

As the viral disease was shutting down ski resorts, spreading through communities and changing lifestyles and lives, Henn found her oasis on Grand County’s cross-country ski trails off Vasquez Road.

“My escape was going up Vasquez and skiing up at the top,” she said. “I just kept feeling how lucky we are to live up here.”

As the storm raged in Colorado’s mountain towns, Henn knew she wanted to create something out of the headlines inked in local newspapers to preserve the moment for posterity, even though she wasn’t sure what.

Henn started with a call for people to send her ski town newspapers, and she began collecting them as well. Some copies were gifted by strangers. Others were gathered locally. Including the Sky-Hi News, clips came from the Winter Park Times, Steamboat Pilot & Today, Summit Daily, Vail Daily and the Aspen Times.

Ultimately, Henn had a stack of papers waiting for their next life.

“Each day, as I sat in my home painting, the stack of newspapers was sitting there, taunting me,” Henn recalled. “I knew I really wanted (the painting) to be about what life was like in the mountains.”

Throughout the year, ideas would come to Henn for the project, but it wasn’t until December and January, when her friends and family started to get the COVID-19 vaccine, that she began to process the newspapers and decide on the artwork.

“I quite literally felt like I could see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Henn said.

Around the same time, Henn also settled on her vision for the painting: a cross-country skier making their way through the forest over top of the tempest of news, a reflection of her escape during the shutdown.

Realizing the one year anniversary of the first headline in her collection was coming up, Henn focused on finishing the painting in time to mark the event Saturday, March 13.

In the end, all of the headlines and articles included in Henn’s piece are from March and April 2020, with a heavy focus on the ski resorts, outdoor recreation and business closures. She also included light-hearted throwbacks, like an advertisement for a sale on toilet paper and another for Truly spiked seltzer.

“To me, there was no other way to tell the story other than the stories,” Henn said, gesturing to her piece. “I like this yin and yang with the beginning of the story being the stories you guys wrote (in the newspapers) and the end of the story being the painting itself and the emotion.”

In similar fashion to the creation of the painting, Henn said it took a while to settle on a name for the artwork. She considered “Ski Ya Later,” “The Lockdown” and a few profanity-laced options before deciding to go with “The Storm.”

“Though, to me, it will always be ‘The S—storm,'” Henn laughed.

When asked about the meaning behind her acrylic and chalk paint vision, Henn said she loves that multiple perspectives of the moment come though.

“Some people might look at it as going into the unknown or the abyss, while others look at it as coming out the other end,” Henn said. “I certainly feel the lightness.”

The painting is on display at Henn’s Winter Park gallery, Uptripping, where it will remain through April 17. After that, she is unsure what she will do with the artwork. One early idea is to have a traveling display in the ski towns included in the painting.

Because the work wasn’t commissioned, Henn is also still deciding whether she will make prints or auction off the one-of-a-kind piece. Without knowing if there will be more than one copy, Henn has yet to put a price on it.

“Part of me feels that the story of this piece is one moment in time and history, so maybe I won’t do prints,” Henn said. “But I really do want people to see it.”

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