Plein air painting of Steamboat proposal still a mystery |

Plein air painting of Steamboat proposal still a mystery

Former Steamboat residents Cole and Brooke Harper are pictured hiking Rabbit Ears where Cole proposed to Brooke in 2014.
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – A plein air painting is missing. Before sounding the alarm, be advised no misdeed or criminal act was involved.

On Sept. 22, 2014, former Steamboat resident Cole Harper had a special proposal planned for his fiancé-to-be Brooke Harper.

The location was along the Rabbit Ears Trail with a field of golden aspens, the valley on the horizon and perfectly picturesque weather.

He got down on one knee. She said “yes.”

“We were driving back to town maybe 15 minutes from the trailhead, and I see this plein air painter painting the area I had just proposed to her in,” said Harper.

The couple moved to Steamboat to be teachers in 2014. He worked in the South Routt School District, and she worked for Americorps through Partners of Routt County.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to pull over, that’s the painting of our proposal,’” Harper said. “And she said something along the lines of, ‘Aw that’s cool, but we’ve got to keep going.’ She was so set on telling our close friends and family the good news.”

So they didn’t stop.

Fast forward to today. The couple, who moved back to Austin, Texas, in 2016 to be closer to family, is now expecting their first child.

“It’s something in my mind literally about once a week, if not more,” said Harper over the phone Wednesday as the couple arrived in Oregon for their “babymoon,” a honeymoon of sorts prior to the baby’s arrival.

“I have thought about that moment ever since that day,” he said. “What a memorialization of that event, and the further and further it gets away from the year 2014, I just think the harder it will be to find.”

And with a baby on the way, Harper said the time to track down the painting is now.

The day of their proposal was the same day the Steamboat Art Museum kicked off its Plein Air Paint Out, a six-day event taking artists to the outdoors to paint within an allotted time.

When asked if any paintings from that year took place near Rabbit Ears, Dottie Zabel, Steamboat Art Museum operations director, said she hadn’t seen anything when she looked back in the museum’s records that matched the description.

“Some artists pick and choose which paintings to submit for the Plein Air contest,” Zabel said. “However, artists will sometimes paint 10 or more pieces that week and pick three of their best ones to hang for the event.

“But you never know, it also could’ve been someone who was up there painting on their own,” Zabel said.

There were about 20 Plein Air artists, mostly from Steamboat, who participated in the event that year. If someone does claim to have that painting, Zabel said it can be identified with a red or black SAM stamp on the back, which is part of the check-in process on the first day of the event.

“Is it for sale?” Harper said. “Is it in a gallery? Is it in someone’s private collection that they painted hanging in their home? Maybe, just maybe, if they knew how important it is, they might part with it – I would pay them of course.”

Harper said he believed the artist was female, wearing khakis and a vest. They spotted the artist maybe 15 minutes from the Rabbit Ears trailhead back toward Steamboat before a big curve in the road, Harper added.

“In hindsight, we could’ve stopped to make an offer on the painting,” he said. “But it probably wouldn’t have changed her decision, because we were both so excited. It’s not much to go on. I still have hope though.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

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