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Picture perfect valley; plein air painters gather again in Steamboat Springs

Lisa Ruff/For Steamboat Today
Plein Air artist Jean Perry works on her latest creation near the More Barn in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

— You’ve seen them on the street. You’ve seen them on the roadside. You’ve seen them on the shores of Pearl Lake. Paint brush lodged between gritted teeth, portable easel precariously perched, they seem lost in a world of their own creation.

The Plein Air Painters of America, or PAPA, the original society of outdoor artists, is hosting its 30th annual paint-out and fine art exhibition in Steamboat Springs this week. A reception and exhibition of Plein Air masters from across the country will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12 at the Steamboat Art Museum.

Founded on Catalina Island in 1986 by artist Denise Burns, PAPA began as a small group of artists dedicated to painting from life, according to PAPA executive director and painter Rose Fredrick. Since then, PAPA has held annual “paint-outs,” at which local artists can learn from “high level groups of painters,” she said.

Twenty-four painters from across the country have been selected to participate in this year’s event, according to Betse Grassby, executive director of the Steamboat Art Museum.

A group of original PAPA artists first met in Steamboat in 1997 when they hosted a workshop for 100 artists at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp to paint for several days.

“This year is a celebration of 30 years of the concept of Plein Air painters. Groups from around the country and around the world have adopted the concept,” Fredrick said.

Andy Evansen, a native of Minnesota and president of PAPA, who recently returned from a PAPA event in Poland, found himself drawn to a particular vista off of Routt County Road 44.

“When I came around the corner and saw the wooden barn, the hay bales in the field, the sun, I couldn’t resist,” Evansen said. “Steamboat is just so amazingly picturesque. You can pull off the side of the road or hike in. There’s just so much subject matter.”

Evansen explained that the 30th annual event is also a celebration of the centennial of the National Parks.

“The National Parks Service was inspired by painters who did these grand vistas,” he said. “The relationship between landscape artists and the National Parks Service goes back to the beginning of the Parks Service.”

He added that many “wet” paintings, paintings that have just been painted, will be featured in an ongoing exhibit at Steamboat Art Museum, which will run through Oct. 15. All paintings will be available for purchase.

“Sometimes a painting is ready to be popped into a frame,” Evansen said.

Others serve as “color notes,” explained Fredrick, and are taken into the studio where they become larger paintings. Fredrick said the painters are “contemporary realists featuring a wide variety of styles within the group: colorists, minimalists and tighter realists.”

Included with some of the paintings at the plein air exhibit will be “an interpretative element, written by the artist about how he or she was inspired to paint it,” Grassby said.

According to Grassby, 25 of the member artists will be in Steamboat for Friday night’s reception.


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