Steamboat Springs’ self-taught acrylic painter’s work evolves
Steamboat Springs — Maid. Mathematician. Cook. Business manager. Accountant. Amateur scientist. House painter. Airline agent. Gardener. Sales rep. Telephone operator. Business owner.
At age 50, jack-of-all-trades Carol Jean sold a small business and took on the longest job she’s ever held in Steamboat Springs.
“I woke up one day and said I’m gonna be an artist,” said the 63-year-old whirlwind from her Heritage Park home.
Thirteen years later, the acrylic painter doesn’t even try to classify her art.
“I don’t know,” Carol Jean replied when asked about her style. “Impressionist, some abstract. My work is still representational. You know what it is.”
Not always. Especially if you’re lucky enough to see some of her narrative painting from the last eight years … often involving naked human forms dealing with some pain or issue haunting Carol Jean’s world.
While much of her work from the last decade can be found on postcards she gives away, her latest, greatest work can be found at the Pine Moon Fine Art gallery on Ninth Street — landscapes that capture the charm of the Yampa Valley but also offer little surprises in every painting.
“I was isolated in my studio a lot, and I was horribly lonely, and all of a sudden, I started finding little people in my paintings,” she said laughing, her gren eyes shining in delight. “Loneliness shows up in different ways.”
On the other hand, nothing makes artists happier than when the public connects to their work in personal ways. Carol Jean was manning a local gallery last year when a visiting biker asked about her paintings.
“’Can you tell me about this Carol Jean?’” he asked, not knowing he was talking to the artist.
“I started explaining to him how I find these little people, little fairies, little buddies in these paintings,” she said. “He started telling me how he had lost his wife six months ago, that she was supposed to be on this trip.”
Carol Jean said she believes the customer somehow sensed her perspective that the little people were meant to look out for the viewer … in this case, hidden in a painting of the iconic Sleeping Giant Mountain.
While many artists often work intensely in isolation, Carol Jean’s biggest delight these days is painting in public at Sunset Happy Hour on top of Mount Werner during the last few ski and summer seasons at the Thunderhead Lodge. She can often be seen rocking out to the music while painting.
“I get so much joy from that,” Carol Jean said. “I paint on large canvas so people can see it and participate. People come up to me and say ‘I saw a moose behind a tree,’ and I’ll put it in my painting.”
In the meantime, Carol Jean continues to evolve, almost never putting down her paintbrush. Incredibly, she’s self-taught but credits teachers at the local college for challenging her. More importantly, Carol Jean challenged herself.
“I used to get bored after seven years with whatever I was doing, so at 50 years old I made a 20-year commitment to paint.”
And boy has she. The entryway to her home is filled with paintings. Her storage rooms and extra bedroom hold them as well. When she runs out of canvases, she “edits” down to her best paintings.
“I roll them up, and hopefully 20 years from now or when I’m dead, someone will figure out what to do with them.”
Carol Jean has turned her most loved paintings into postcards. It’s her way of bringing art to the public.
“Thank God we’ve got museums and private homes, but I wanted to reach the public.”
Sure enough, you can find her postcards for free on a display at the Pine Moon Fine Art gallery in Steamboat.
And if anyone doubts that Carol Jean is in it for the long haul, they may want to know how she thinks.
“How well is this painted,” she asks herself after finishing her latest work. “Will this last a thousand years? That’s what I’m hoping for.”
To learn more about what Carol Jean does to ensure her art will last, visit her during Steamboat Springs’ First Friday Artwalk from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Pine Moon Fine Art gallery.
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