Steamboat business owner lights up the night at Denver Zoo |

Steamboat business owner lights up the night at Denver Zoo

Nicole Inglis

— Former Yampa Valley resident Max Halterman had a strange audience for his latest project.

Massive, gray Asian elephants along with rhinos, tapirs and gibbons — residents of the Denver Zoo's new Elephant Passage — lay nearby, chewing and staring as Halterman and a crew of six workers installed hundreds of colorful Asian lanterns as part of the Zoo Lights festival opening Friday at the Denver Zoo.

"It's pretty cool," Halterman said Tuesday. The zoo flew him out last week to install the lights. "We do get a lot of different jobs, but this is the first big job we set up ourselves and everything. This was kind of from the ground up."

Halterman — owner of OM Gallery, which has locations in Santa Cruz, Calif., and downtown Steamboat Springs — was invited by the zoo to design and install the new Festival of Lanterns exhibit in the 10-acre Elephant Passage as one of five attractions at the 22nd annual nighttime Zoo Lights event.

The design features more than 200 lanterns, but the style isn't limited to the Vietnamese theme of the Elephant Passage. Bold colors and shapes ranging from smooth orbs to blooming lotus flowers punctuate the zoo's pavilions and walkways.

Zoo spokesperson Kimberly LeTourneau said zoo officials came across Halterman's work during their research and contacted him.

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"We were interested in their design abilities and their sustainable business practices, such as promoting fair trade," LeTourneau wrote in an email. "We were impressed by their past work with previous clients and are excited to share Festival of Lanterns with all of our guests to this year’s Zoo Lights event."

LeTourneau said the four other zones of illuminated attractions are Winter Wonderland, the North Pole, Sea of Lights and Northern Lights. In addition, the Celebration Pavilion portrays cultural traditions from around the world through dance, music and storytelling.

Zoo Lights opens Friday and runs nightly through Jan. 2 with gates open from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for children.

The Halterman-designed Festival of Lanterns takes up a good deal of real estate in the zoo, but Halterman is no stranger to large-scale installations. He's provided the products for exhibits in Las Vegas in addition to designs for weddings and special events.

From the moment he was offered the project, Halterman and his team had about four weeks to make it happen. Some of the lanterns were custom made or specially ordered and some came from his inventory.

In addition, Santa Cruz artist Kirby Scudder custom built a life-size elephant lantern. Along with a smaller rhino, the one-of-a-kind piece will be spectacularly lit from the inside.

"We used a lot of different styles," Halterman said. "We just had so much room to work with."

Halterman grew up in Oak Creek — where he said a loving family and supportive community created the nest in which he grew — but he soon was eager to see a world far beyond the Yampa Valley.

A 2009 profile of Halterman in the Steamboat Today describes his world travels that took him through India and eventually to Southeast Asia. It was in Vietnam where he was inspired by the textiles and goods. He started an import and wholesale business 12 years ago in Santa Cruz.

The Steamboat Springs location — which is run by his mother, Karen Halterman — will be celebrating its one-year anniversary Dec. 7. She said the Zoo Lights project has a serendipitous meaning because many family members, including herself, collect elephant figurines.

"I'm super proud of Max, of course," she said. "I've never seen the Denver Zoo Lights, and now I'm excited to see the big elephant light, and I'm excited to see how our beautiful silk lights look in that setting.

"Lights are happy things anyway, but I believe it brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. He certainly enjoys what he does and loves this lighting."

Find more information about the Zoo Lights festival here.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

Denver Zoo Lights

Find more information about the Zoo Lights festival here.