Local artist to build sculpture of aspen, wildflowers at Steamboat Resort | SteamboatToday.com

Local artist to build sculpture of aspen, wildflowers at Steamboat Resort

Spencer Powell
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Sage Sulivan’s unnamed sculpture will feature a mix of realism in the design of the aspen tree trunks with exaggerated and expressive flower petals on top, March 22, 2023.
Steamboat Resort/Courtesy photo

Last year, Sage Sullivan was reading out loud to her mother, Terri Sullivan, drafts of a proposal to create an art installation at Steamboat Resort. Together, they combed over draft after draft to make sure every little word was in place to communicate why Sage deserved the commission.

The resort was seeking proposals for an art piece to be installed near the main entrance sometime around November 2023. They asked for designs that answers the question “What Makes You Feel Welcome in The Outdoors?”

Tragically, Terri Sullivan died of pancreatic cancer in September, not long before the resort chose her daughter’s design out of over 20 proposals from artists all over North America.

“It was really a lot to handle all at once — this amazing, amazing opportunity and internally grieving the loss of my mom,” Sage said. “But you know, I think she had a hand in that as well. And I know she’s here always with me helping me out.”

The odds weren’t in their favor, but Sage did have the benefit of being born in Steamboat Springs and growing up here. The selection panel didn’t know about her local roots until after the selection, but her understanding of the community and surrounding wilderness helped her create a design that possesses the local mountain town’s DNA.

Sage said being chosen to create such a large sculpture has been a big break for her career as an artist. In January, she proudly opened her first art studio in Steamboat in Copper Ridge.

“To actually say, ‘I am an artist and I am a full-time artist, I’m being paid for my art,’” Sage said. “You know, I’m not actually a starving artist at this point. It feels like I’ve really made it.”

Sagelived in Bend, Oregon, for seven years, but moved back home in the last year to help take care of her ailing mother. One of her friends showed her a newspaper clipping about the resort’s call for proposals and said it would be perfect for a sculpture.

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Sage immediately wanted to create a piece that was more abstract than most of the public art around town.

“We have so much great public art around here,” Sage said. “But I feel like a lot of it is pretty literal.”

Most of her work is conceptual, on the other hand, and she said she wanted to create something that made people stop and think.

Then, while backpacking through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, she admired all the wildflowers and thought about how they made her feel welcomed and at home. She started putting her thoughts onto paper through a word web and an image collage, which helped her home in on the three central elements to her piece: wildflowers, aspen trees and the beauty of the alpenglow.

Sage Sullivan was born and raised in Steamboat Springs, and after traveling for most of her adult life, a promising art career has started in her hometown, March 22, 2023.
Steamboat Resort/Courtesy photo

“I yearn to see the beautiful aspen trees quake, change into the glorious fall colors and to glide through their watching eyes on a powder day,” Sage wrote in her artist statement. “I ache for the renowned alpenglow as the sun sets on Mount Werner and to admire the hardy and vibrant wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains.”

Her sculpture hasn’t been named yet, but will look like a tipi-shaped bouquet with aspen tree stems flourishing outward into colorful flower petals that radiate the alpenglow colors of blue, purple and orange.

The aspen trunks will be steel piping made from railroad spikes that the artist will weld together. She aso intends to use horseshoes donated by locals to weld “aspen eyes” onto the steel trunks.

Sage originally wanted to use blown glass for the flowers, but knowing such a sculpture would likely crack from the weather and frequent temperature changes, she decided to use epoxy resin and fiberglass.

The bulbous, seemingly oversized flowers in Sage’s piece represent more than the alpenglow. Sage said the innate hardiness of wildflowers celebrates and respects the strength and diversity of marginalized groups. The use of railroad spikes and horseshoes, meanwhile, speaks to how westward expansion was performed on the backs of immigrant workers, key minority groups and enslaved peoples.

“Sage’s (concept) is the most thoughtful and respectful proposal and I hope it makes minority groups feel included,” selection panelist Michanae Edwards said in a news release.

When calling for proposals, the resort emphasized diversity and inclusion, and assembled a panel of representatives from the resort and the art world, as well as people from various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and communities from the Yampa Valley and Front Range.

Sage grew up in Steamboat Springs and graduated from Steamboat Springs High School before graduating from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing.

Her mother Terri was well known and respected in the community and was one of the first female snowboard instructors at the resort, if not the first. Sage said her mother introduced her to everything in the outdoors.

“I know that she’s with me on this journey,” Sage said. “I will definitely be dedicating the sculpture to her, and she is my love for the outdoors and everything. She is my fisherwoman.”

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