Bringing life to painting: Local artist completes mural at Steamboat Lake nature exhibit |

Bringing life to painting: Local artist completes mural at Steamboat Lake nature exhibit

A new mural at the Steamboat Lake State Park Visitor's Center features 78 creatures that people can find in the area. Julia Dordoni created the piece, which is meant to encourage visitors to take notice of the wildlife, large and small, that call the park home.
Courtesy photo/Julia Dordoni

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A new mural at the Steamboat Lake State Park Visitors Center is teeming with life, big and small, thanks to the work of a local artist. 

Julia Dordoni has spent the past six weeks on the new interactive display, creating redwing blackbirds and larkspur blossoms from the stroke of her paint brush. In the foreground, a menagerie of animals gathers near some water. A field of flowers blooms below snowcapped mountains in the background.

The natural landscape around Steamboat Lake provided ample inspiration for Dordoni to complete the mural, titled “Dreamland.”

“It’s so picturesque that an artist would have tons of opportunities to make beautiful paintings any way they look,” she said.

The scene illustrates the park in the summertime, around the beginning of July, when the park enjoys a period of colorful fecundity, according to Kelly Cook, administrative assistant for the Visitors Center. The mural is meant to encourage visitors to appreciate not only the large animals they typically hope to see, like moose and elk, but also the smaller critters they might not notice. 

“There is so much more to see here besides a moose,” Cook said. 

In total, there are at least 78 creatures depicted in the mural, by Cook’s count, species of which visitors can spot in and around Steamboat Lake.

Interspersed across the painted display are multiple glass tanks that are home to living reptiles and amphibians native to the area. More creatures will be added in the coming weeks, Cook said, such as some endangered fish and boreal toads, also listed as an endangered species in Colorado.

Dordoni acquired some new wildlife knowledge as she completed the mural. One of the lessons that struck her the most was the sheer vastness of the area’s biological diversity. She painted 15 different kinds of butterflies from an even longer list of native butterflies supplied by Park Manager Julie Arington.

“I was really shocked at how many different species of animals live here,” Dordoni said.

She even got the chance to hold some of the reptiles from the glass tanks, which helped to ease a longtime fear of snakes. 

“After I got to hold them, I learned they are actually really friendly creatures,” she said.

Unfortunately, the Visitors Center remains closed to the public, along with camping at Steamboat Lake, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials are unsure when these facilities could reopen.

Dordoni’s murals are on display at several businesses around Steamboat, such as Freshies Restaurant and Snow Bowl. Her work is distinguished by bright colors and dynamic lines that suggest movement and texture, such as the lighter blue ripples Dordoni added to the lakeshore in the Steamboat Lake mural where a sandhill crane dips its foot. 

She tried to paint the various animals in a way that suggests they are interacting with one another. Some are so small it takes a careful eye to notice, just like in the natural world. To depict them as accurately as possible, Dordoni taped actual photos of the animals next to where she was painting.

A fox inspects a rock in Julia Dordoni’s new mural, “Dreamland,” at the Steamboat Lake State Park visitor’s center. Dordoni depicted the various animals in a way that suggests they are interacting with their surroundings in order to make the mural seem more illustrative of the natural world.
Courtesy photo/Julian Dordoni

What the local artist appreciates about murals as an art form is the ability to paint on a large scale, which Dordoni said allows her to fit in more detail than a traditional painting. The largeness also allows more freedom in her artistic process.

“I feel like I can finally paint how I want to paint when I have a large space,” Dordoni said.

Walking through Steamboat, she enjoys taking a moment to notice the murals on display on the side of restaurants and boutiques. In the future, Dordoni wants to add more of her own work to the walls around Steamboat.

“I hope I have the opportunity to paint more murals all across this town,” she said.

In addition to murals, Dordoni paints in more traditional styles. She specializes in plein air wedding paintings that she completes during the course of the ceremony.  

To view her work, visit

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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