Steamboat Springs preservationist launches new career as artist
February 9, 2017
Steamboat Springs — Elaine Dermody always had plans to devote herself to painting, but "life got in the way," she said, of the decades she dedicated to marriage, career, raising children and serious post-retirement volunteerism.
But about two years ago, Dermody decided it was now or never. She was going to begin a new career as an artist.
Today, she is celebrating her first solo show at the Eleanor Bliss Center for the Arts at the Depot.
Dermody's oil paintings are wilderness inspired — with serene scenes of mountain meadows bursting with wildflowers, creeks rambling around snowy banks and glowing orange sunsets.
For Dermody, who is one of the founding members of Friends of the Wilderness, pristine natural landscapes are not just her muse; they are her cause.
In 2000, Dermody and a group of fellow nature enthusiasts and preservationists started the nonprofit organization through which volunteers assist the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining and protecting Wilderness within Routt National Forest.
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It was through a regular summer gig traveling via motorhome and volunteering with the U.S. Forest Service that brought Elaine and her husband, Win, to Steamboat more than 20 years ago.
The Dermodys went on to help launch the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, which promotes volunteering in more than 700 U.S. wilderness areas.
Protecting public lands for future generations is "paramount," she said.
But in 2015, Dermody decided to take a step back from everything else to focus on her painting.
She always intended to paint more in her spare time and paint more when she retired. But after a long career in gerontology (the study of aging), the Friends of Wilderness became like a full-time job.
"I would tell my friends ‘When I get old, I will paint,'" Dermody said. "Then, I realized, I am old."
Turning an energetic 79 on Saturday, Dermody now spends at least several hours every day painting — practicing, improving her craft — regardless of how artistically inspired she is feeling. She loves it but also doesn't view painting as a hobby. She is serious about being an artist.
"I realized I can't put it off any longer," Dermody said. "If I'm ever going to achieve my dream of being an artist, I'd better get started. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm old."
With her undergraduate degree in psychology and a long career spent helping older people face physical, mental, emotional and social problems, Dermody also takes very seriously the psychological benefits of viewing beauty, whether on a gallery wall or on the shores of a mountain lake.
Research shows, she explained, the psychological benefits of having "awe moments." When she experiences her own awe moments in her wanderings around Steamboat and world travels, Dermody takes a photograph and uses that for later inspiration.
"I hope people see my paintings and have that awe experience — that psychological lift as it does for me,” Darmody said. “I try to capture that emotional benefit in my paintings."
Still new in the field, Dermody acknowledges she still has a lot to learn, but is encouraged thus far.
At last Friday's opening, she sold three of her paintings and another since then. She is busy getting ready for another show in August at Harwigs.
For Dermody, this new phase of life is about finding joy and meaning in an entirely different experience and challenge.
But the primary goal, she said, is to "bring happiness and joy to other people who see my paintings."
Dermody's work will be on display through the month of February in the Platform Gallery at the Depot Arts Center, 1001 13th St.