Jack Finney Memorial Gallery opens in Steamboat Springs High School | SteamboatToday.com

Jack Finney Memorial Gallery opens in Steamboat Springs High School

Nicole Inglis

— Ali Pougiales couldn't imagine high school without art classes. The Steamboat Springs High School senior said that she's a visual learner and that she hopes her photography studies someday will take her to a job at National Geographic.

On Friday, Pougiales stood in a professional art gallery space and looked at one of her photographs, a serene shot of yellow leaves floating on water, hanging on the wall.

"It's a perfect way to show off our art," she said.

The art-adorned walls, lit by natural and track lighting, were just a few steps away from the classroom where she refined her work.

A permanent structure constructed just inside the front doors of Steamboat Springs High School, the gallery opened Friday evening with its first official show of student work.

For Pougiales, front and center is exactly where artwork should be featured in schools.

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"It's showing your perspective on something instead of taking in everyone else's," she said.

And the artist for whom the gallery was named would have agreed wholeheartedly.

The Jack Finney Memorial Gallery, as the new space is called, was named for a local sculptor who loved the Yampa Valley and sharing his passion for creative endeavors.

"If (students) wanted to talk to him about art, he never wanted to keep it to himself," his wife, Shirlee, said during the opening reception.

Best known for his iconic bronze sculptures — including Buddy Werner, Billy Kidd, Doak Walker and Hazie Werner — Finney also was a painter and pencil artist of impressive caliber. Some of his work hangs interspersed with the students' work in the new gallery.

High school art teacher Morgan Peterson had the idea for the gallery about a year ago and wrote a proposal for funding from the Finney Legacy Fund, which was established as a donor-advised fund through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation just days after Finney's death in August 2011.

She said the fund contributed more than $10,000 for the project, which was completed during the summer. There still are plans to install more track lighting and new display equipment. The gallery is open form 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"It's a really incredible opportunity for our students," Peterson said. "It's been cool to see the kids volunteer their time to help out. I think it's inspiring them to do their best, knowing the school really values it."

At the opening Friday evening, Shirlee and her children Mike and Terri were in awe of the completed gallery.

"He would be thrilled and happy to see it," Shirlee said about her late husband. "He'd be overwhelmed."

Terri said her father loved hanging out with her and her friends when she was in high school and sharing his love for art with students.

She said that the family considers themselves "Sailors forever" and that her father would have wanted the funds to go back into the schools.

"We're really touched," she said.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com