Artists at Work |

Artists at Work

Denise Bohart Brown
John F. Russell

Seeing Patterns

Denise Bohart Brown

There is a geometric pattern percolating in the mind of Denise Bohart Brown. It wants to escape but hasn’t found its way out.

“I have had a quilt design in my head for months and months,” she says. “I’ve created work from it. One quilt is even hanging in a gallery, but it’s still not what I have in my head.”

Quilting is just one medium of self-expression for Bohart Brown, who also incorporates geometric patterns in fine-art fused glass.

The two mediums – so different from one another – serve similar purposes for Bohart Brown.

“They are complementary for me because the style I use is very geometric,” she says. “But the two mediums are capable of very different things.”

The type of glass that tolerates a 1,500-degree kiln won’t always lend itself to the patterns she conceives in her head.

Bohart Brown spent six years assisting a commercial photographer in San Francisco after earning a degree in photography at the Colorado Institute of Art.

“It killed so much of my passion for photography, I decided I need to find another way to make a living,” she says.

She moved to Davis, Calif., and discovered the Craft Center at the University of California at Davis. She eventually became the manager of the ceramics and photography labs. But her newfound passion was the glass lab.

Later, she and a friend took quilting classes and learned techniques that helped Bohart Brown execute designs that were in her head, but couldn’t be done effectively in glass.

She works in a sunny room in her home overlooking a greenbelt where neighbors occasionally walk by on the path.

“My studio is mostly filled with things that are inspiring to me,” she says. “There are pictures of my parents as young adults and pieces of art that friends have made for me. I like to surround myself with that kind of energy and that kind of love.”

Giving new life to wood

David Winters

It was almost inevitable that David Winters would find the path to self-expression in beautifully grained wood.

“There’s a kinship I have with wood,” he acknowledges.

His late father, Bill Winters, was a ballroom dancer, a master metal smith, a woodworker and a relentless tinkerer.

“He would let me do anything and everything out in his woodshop,” Winters recalls of his father.

However, the spiritual connection to wood came from his late mother, Tina (pronounced Tyna).

“She thought she was a tree,” Winters says as he wipes sawdust off an old portrait of Tina that hangs in his woodworking shop.

Tina was a passionate Sierra Club member who took tree hugging literally. Winters inherited that passion in a slightly different form.

“I like the idea of giving the wood another life,” he says.

The work that Winters turns out can be divided into two categories: art and commerce. But the line is often blurred.

There are the beautiful carving boards that are in such high demand in Steamboat shops that he cannot keep up. His trademark can be seen in the swirls created by alternating bands of exotic wood.

For Winters, the term “carving board” has less to do with standing rib roasts than with the precise lines he carves down the face of waves in his native Southern California and, similarly, down Steamboat’s ski slopes on a custom snowboard.

The fine art side resides in an anteroom of the main shop, where a set of metal shelves is stacked with pieces of wood of many shapes and sizes. Many are burls – the strange knobs that sometimes form on the trunks of aspens. But when they’re turned on Winters’ lathe, they are transformed into beautiful bowls.

The old pieces of wood are given new life, and Winter is happy.


Greg Effinger

Greg Effinger has mastered the ski trails on Mount Werner. But he prefers to express himself with a watercolor brush, not his snowboard.

Effinger, equally adept at commercial art and fine art paintings of Yampa Valley landscapes, has a special affinity for painting the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area. The trails are visible from his Old Town studio.

“I have the best location in town,” he says. The studio is in a remodeled home at Third and Oak streets. Visitors are greeted by an antique children’s sled mounted at an angle as if it were flying downhill. Effinger sits at an antique drafting table where he can enjoy the views and work on two paintings simultaneously.

He enthusiastically shares his secret to faithfully painting the ski area.

“Our ski mountain has a certain anatomy to it. It isn’t easy to paint. If you don’t get it right, people notice. By now, I can do it with my eyes closed.”

Effinger, who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School, studied fine art at the University of Northern Colorado. He avoids growing stale on painting Mount Werner by pursuing his passion for two other locales – the Hill Country of Texas and Albuquerque, N.M.

So, what’s the secret to faithfully rendering the ski trails of Mount Werner in watercolors?

“Most people forget to paint the shadows cast by the evergreens on the upper mountain,” he says. “It’s especially important when the trees are glistening with snow. It’s when you paint in the shadows that the depth comes out.”

Devoted to the loom

Jacque Hart

Jacque Hart knew she could not continue weaving in the traditional style of the Navajo and still build her own career. But the transition wasn’t easy to make – Mae Bekis had forever changed her life.

Hart met Bekis in the remote Four Corners region of Southwest Colorado, and the two women from very different cultures formed an immediate connection.

“I was one of her children,” Hart recalls. “It was a huge life-changing experience. She basically gave me her life’s work.”

Hart apprenticed herself to the Navajo woman and learned the traditional ways of making her own tools for spinning wool, digging plant roots to make dyes, and making soap out of yucca plants.

Today, Hart’s devotion to weaving has only intensified, but she has branched out from Navajo tradition to set her own course.

Her two-story home in Phippsburg is filled with looms. There’s one in the living room, one in a spare bedroom and another in the family room. Hart begins work every morning between 8 and 9 a.m. and continues straight through until 2 p.m.

When she finally takes a break, it’s to meditate. Her art is influenced by the Baha’i faith and her belief that all human beings are connected to one another.

“I consider myself a world citizen,” Hart says. “I’m fascinated by world culture.”

Hart’s textile work is divided into three distinct styles, each one of them with its own complexities. She turns out small, tightly woven pieces relatively quickly. They suggest large scarves or table runners, and at $150, they sell briskly in Steamboat.

Another facet of her work is influenced by European history and emigration to North America. She hand-draws intricate geometric designs and painstakingly re-creates them on the loom to make coverlets.

Finally, Hart has devoted herself to a body of work that focuses on spiritual subjects and human relationships to a universal God. The large weavings can take four to five months to create and are priced at about $8,000.

Trusting the flames

Manuel Castillo

Manuel “Meno” Castillo wants his ceramic pieces to look as if they were excavated from an archaeological site. That explains why he often fires them in an earthen pit.

“It’s got to look earthy and old,” Castillo says. “I call this series ‘new antiquities.'”

Castillo considers himself a native Mexican American. His mother was from the Mexican state of Nayarit, and his father grew up on a sprawling ranch in Jalisco. However, he hails from Chicago.

Castillo works in a studio attached to a New Mexican-style straw bale house he built himself. He lives with his wife, Sylvia, high on Lynx Pass east of Stagecoach.

Castillo rejects the label “renaissance man” but admits he’s worked in more professions than he can list. He retired a few years ago from a water-quality agency in Illinois, and he has a master’s degree in business administration. He became interested in ceramics while working as a commercial photographer with clients in the fine arts. He taught for a time as an artist-in-residence in the student union at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

His plan for his business, Tortuga Ceramics, is to mix fine art with commerce. He intends to churn out decorative ovenware as hot serving platters for the restaurant industry and, in particular, high-end pizzerias.

However, his eyes light up and he gestures emphatically when describing his new antiquities pottery.

Castillo practices a hybrid technique, first firing his pots in a modern kiln, but finishing them in a pit fire where they take on the smokiness of the burning sticks and grasses. The twigs burning in the pit also imprint patterns on the pots.

Pit firing carries a downside for the ceramic artist – a certain percentage of the clay pots will break in the fire. But Castillo embraces the risk of disappointment.

“It’s pure joy when the pots survive and you see the unexpected results,” he says.

Boundless creativity

Sue Gallion

When Sue Gallion grows a bit stale on her rug hooking, she can always turn to her paintings. And if she can’t find inspiration for one of her brightly colored oils, she can return to the tactile medium of quilting. If that’s not tactile enough, she turns to ceramics.

But the medium that currently fires her creativity is the one-of-a-kind, hand-knitted winter hats that combine her deft sense of color with her penchant for collecting small pieces of history.

One wall of Gallion’s studio adjacent to her home in the South Valley is covered with shelves that contain hundreds of skeins of yarns.

“It’s a combination of all the colors I need to coordinate a new hat,” she says. “The color, to me, is the most important part” of the creative process.

The yarn wall in the bright studio includes the “furry” fibers that give so many of her hats their signature look. However, the quality that really makes each hat unique is Gallion’s choice of an embellishment, which she attaches to the band of the hat.

As the owner of a Houston antique shop for many years, she cultivated resources for period buttons, buckles, pieces of lace and brocade, and antique costume jewelry.

Each of her hats, which sell for $95 ($110 with earflaps), receives an individual stamp of personality from one of Gallion’s clever embellishments.

Inspiration is drawn from Gallion’s surroundings in an open little valley tucked just out of sight near Blacktail Mountain on Chokecherry Lane. She looks across farm fields to the distant ski slopes of Mount Werner.

“We have that north light. Every time you look out the window the light is different,” Gallion says. “Every time you look out the window, you’re inspired to create. I never tire of creating.”

And 400 hats and many paintings and textile pieces into her artistic life, the inspiration keeps flowing for Sue Gallion.

Trust your instincts

Susan Gill Jackson

Oil painter Susan Gill Jackson perceives a different world than many of us, and it’s possible she’s not fully aware of it.

“I put down just what I see,” she said recently at one of her gallery exhibits.

Yet, Gill Jackson’s world is one in which a palette of blue-black, yellow ochre and the red-orange of cadmium red oil paints hold sway. She sees deep lavenders in the roof of a ramshackle Florida home and stabs of intense reddish pink on the snow surrounding the historic More Barn in Steamboat.

Gill Jackson has a background in graphic design and has worked in stained glass art windows, illustrated children’s books and painted murals. But it was an introduction to plein-air oil painting that plugged her into her artistic destiny.

From her studio in a barn in Pleasant Valley, she interprets the rural landscapes of Routt County. They are saturated with luscious color.

It’s possible other regions of the country where she works – the subtropical interior of Florida and the coast of California – inform her Colorado landscapes.

Gill Jackson has captured scruffy rural homes in Homosassa Spring, Fla., and the scenic Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Her work is well received in both states, with gallery representation in Naples, Fla., and awards in California.

Gill Jackson has learned to succeed in her art by letting go. Her best paintings result when she trusts her instincts and doesn’t overanalyze a work in progress.

“I like to play with paint – squish it back and forth,” Gill Jackson says. “I try to work fast and keep it spontaneous. If I take a painting too seriously, it shows up – it’s too tight.

“I try to do it in one shot and then I want to be done with it.”

Warm undertones

Dancy Gould St. John

Dancy Gould St. John starts every painting with the same warm wash of color.

“I begin with a tinted canvas,” she says. “It’s a pinkish orange that’s almost a flesh tone. Then, I begin to sketch in a deep reddish brown.”

Gould St. John’s motivations have everything to do with Colorado’s endless blue skies and the way the human brain responds to color.

The salmon pink that underlies all of Gould St. John’s rural landscapes is opposite blue on the color wheel. Knowing in advance that she plans to devote much of her canvas to a Colorado blue sky, the artist aims to seduce her viewers with the complementary flesh tone underneath. She wipes away paint in the seams between clouds and land forms to reveal the pinkish orange, an effect that is perceived only subliminally by most people who view the painting.

Gould St. John grew up south of Denver in the years before urban sprawl overtook the high prairies. It was a time when there were unfettered views of the overturned bowl of the sky.

Ever since she was a child, the sky has held symbolic meaning for her.

“It’s where I feel closest to the spiritual part of my life,” she says. “That’s where God is.”

When she was a girl, beginning in 1968, her family kept a place in Steamboat and spent two months of the year here. She spent one summer at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Strawberry Park before finally moving here full time with her own family five years ago.

In Denver, she kept busy paying the mortgage by painting murals and trompe l’oeil faux finishes in homes. But she continued to take art classes in the summers.

The large-scale murals she painted continue to influence her work on smaller canvases.

“It’s been a huge challenge in making small paintings as intimate and encompassing” as murals, she says.

Gould St. John finds her studio wherever she can set up her easel – and it’s almost always under a dramatic Western sky.

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