Historic caboose at Depot revitalized with mural, art studio space | SteamboatToday.com

Historic caboose at Depot revitalized with mural, art studio space

Muralist Espartaco Albornoz works on the exterior of the historic caboose in front of the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The yellow caboose that’s sat dormant behind the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs for several decades is rolling full-steam ahead into its next chapter. Last week, the caboose got the first installment of what will be a multi-step conversion into an art studio.

History of the caboose

Many of Steamboat’s early white residents first arrived via train to the Depot, which was later renovated to house the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, now Steamboat Creates. Local legend and Arts Council founding member Eleanor Bliss spearheaded the effort to bring a caboose to the Depot in a nod to both the heritage of local arts and local development.

The caboose was eventually donated to the Arts Council by the private, charitable Anschutz Foundation. Built in 1966, the caboose spent years running through Steamboat on the Moffat tracks. The caboose has been stationed at the Depot for more than 20 years; the caboose’s windows have been broken and its walls covered in graffiti for much of that time.

Renovating the caboose

Steamboat Creates Executive Director Kim Keith has dreamed of restoring the caboose and outfitting it as an artist studio. An anonymous donor gifted Steamboat Creates funding to start the renovation project, which will include adding electricity, a heat system and insulation. As many of the original features as possible will be maintained, including a conductor chair and desk, stairs and wood flooring. 

“For (the donor), (the renovation) is a sign that the caboose is cared about and that the project is happening,” said Steamboat Creates Development Director Dagny McKinley.

A look at the caboose in 2017.
Matt Stensland

The new mural

The mural along the exterior of the caboose depicts a stick-figure-esque character, Nozco, who can also be found in studios and street art across the world. Nozco doesn’t identify as any gender and is drawn as a childish depiction of a person, representing the purity of childhood that lives in all people, according to McKinley.

There’s also an element that could appear to be scribbled writing but is actually the representation of a heartbeat throughout the mural. At the bottom of the mural, the stones represent the obstacles all humans face throughout the course of life. 

“For us, the purity of the Nozco represents creativity,” McKinley said, “because creativity is the most pure part of who someone is.”

The mural artist

The mural was painted by artist Espartaco Albornoz Abreu. He is originally from Venezuela, has spent time in Italy and Germany and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York. He created and began incorporating Nozcos into his work in 2002.

Keith and Abreu met a year ago, and when the time came to pick a muralist for this project, Abreu’s art was a clear choice.

“We felt that style of street art was perfect for the caboose,” McKinley said. “It’s fun and playful and relevant to the railroad in that the caboose had been covered with graffiti for years.” 

During Abreu’s visit to Steamboat to paint the caboose, he also paid a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Steamboat Springs teen center, where he taught a graffiti art class and organized the group’s creation of a collaborative mural. 

“The kids have been requesting graffiti art — it was super cool how that lined up,” said Boys and Girls Club Teen Director Meghan Barrett. “(The teens) all loved it. They were able to opt out if they wanted, but they all participated, which is huge.” 

Abreu taught the teens graffiti art and spray paint techniques and explained his Nozco symbol to them. Each teen then designed their own Nozco pieces.

“He told (the teens) to design it however they were feeling,” Barrett said. 

Abreu then directed the teens in placing the Nozco pieces onto the mural, then spray painting a scene around them and finally, lifting the Nozco pieces to reveal the Nozco shapes among the paint.

“They’re so stoked to get to keep the mural,” Barrett said. “We’re all about making this teen space our own.”

Brooklyn-based graffiti artist Espartaco Albornoz Abreu works with a Boys & Girls Club teen on spray painting a mural, which will be displayed in the teen center.
A Boys and Girls Club teen center participant sprays color onto a collaborative mural.
Espartaco Albornoz Abreu helps a Boys & Girls Club teen with spray painting technique.

Future of the caboose

Steamboat Creates aims to have the caboose studio finished during the winter and hopes to welcome the caboose’s first artist in residency during next summer. The residency will consist of a relatively open format, McKinley said, and will include significant pieces of community outreach.

“We really want to tie what’s going on in the caboose with what’s going on in the community,” McKinley said. 

While the Depot has hosted art classes and galleries for decades, this will be the first art residency ever offered. 

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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