The “Yampa is Wild,” a rallying cry, a source of inspiration for Steamboat’s new large-scale mural
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jill Bergman remembers the first time she encountered the Yampa River before moving to Steamboat Springs in 2002.
“It’s both peaceful and exciting,” said Bergman local printmaker, who grew up rafting the North Platte, the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Grand Canyon. “I would love to just sit by the river and watch it pass, feeling the breeze and being filled with a sense of adventure — like the river flowing past to places far away and knowing it could lead me there, too. It’s a sanctuary.”
From its headwaters in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area to its confluence with the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument at Echo Park, the stretch of river spanning 250 miles provides something for all who live by and visit its banks.
This summer the Yampa River will be depicted as a large-scale — approximately 70 feet long by 12 feet high — mural encompassing the theme, “The Yampa is Wild.” The mural is proposed to be painted on the upper south and upper east walls of the Ambulance Barn building next to the footbridge between Ninth and 10th streets.
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A project led by the nonprofit Friends of the Yampa, who commissioned Bergman, has partnered with the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, city of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District and Routt County Search & Rescue since last summer when the city’s moratorium for public artwork was lifted.
“The ‘Yampa is Wild’ has been a rallying cry for Friends of the Yampa Board’s campaign to keep the Yampa River from having any other major dams, diversions or dewatering of the river from happening in the future,” said Kent Vertrees, Friends of the Yampa Board president.
It’s known, he said, as the wildest river in the upper Colorado River Basin, one of the last of its kind.
“The Yampa River is my church,” Vertrees said. “I go to the river to play and pray, to find solace and joy and to recharge my soul. As recreationalists, we also get to ride the wave of peak runoff, which is a form of endangered recreation not found in many places in the American West anymore.”
“We depend on water just like the animals and plants do,” said Bergman. “The River may be frozen, low water or flooding its banks, but it’s always there providing water, which is something we shouldn’t take for granted.”
Engagement through art
The project is meant to engage, inspire and educate people about the wild Yampa River to allow for creative expression, foster partnerships and broaden the scope of what the Yampa River means locally, regionally and beyond.
“In this project, art has become a vehicle for a larger conversation,” said Kim Keith, SSAC executive director. “This mural is an opportunity to promote awareness and encourage people to respect the life force that runs through the middle of our town. It is an important message to share. The Yampa is wild. Let’s keep it that way.”
Using vivid colors, this mural is set during the spring season and will include prominent local landscapes, physical features of the river basin, cities, other tributaries, local wildlife as well as agriculture, environment, municipal and recreational uses.
“We tried to include as many recognizable things in the initial drawings as possible,” Bergman said. “A river 250 miles long is a lot to incorporate, so I tried to capture the important attributes of the river.”
Knowing every bend and fork in the river, Vertrees had a vision in mind and worked with Bergman on the first few sketches using hand printed linocuts.
“To work through the design, I decided to scale the mural way down and create a 1/2 inch to 1 foot drawing,” she said. “Then, I turned that into a 35 inch long carved, printed and painted linocut. Each was printed by hand with brown oil-based ink and then painted with gouache, which is very similar to watercolor but brighter and more opaque.”
Bergman was able to create a mural design, and a new edition of original prints with this method. The original three prints she said have been numbered and donated to the FOTY to help with fundraising for the mural.
“I’ve never done a mural before so that alone was outside my comfort zone,” she said. “I used printing making methods because that’s how I normally make my artwork. It’s part of my thinking process having a carving tool in hand.”
To eventually transfer the project on to the wall, Bergman said she will first paint the mural on a fabric called PolyTab.
This material is lighter than canvas and once painting is complete, it will be adhered to the walls of the Ambulance Barn building. It’s a process she said will retain the vivid colors of the paints more so than directly painting onto the stucco of the building.
Support from the community Vertrees said could be either through fundraising or volunteering. Currently, Friends of the Yampa Board must reach their budget of $25,000 by June and are $15,000 away from their goal. Bergman said she would need volunteers to help paint once the outline has been drawn on the Polytab material in addition to transferring the image to the wall.
“This will act as a reminder for people in Steamboat Springs that our little river changes into one of the great rivers of the American West as it moves downstream on its 250-mile course,” Vertrees said.
For more information or to donate to the “Yampa is Wild” mural project, visit friendsoftheyampa.com.
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