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Steamboat Creates turns caboose into artist’s studio

The inside of the caboose at the Depot Art Center has been transformed into a modern art studio.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The caboose that has been sitting unused outside the Depot Art Center will soon have a new use this summer. The newly refurbished train car will serve as a studio for a new artist-in-residency program, hosted by Steamboat Creates.

The idea for this project has been in the making for several decades. It was Eleanor Bliss, founder of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council — now known as Steamboat Creates — who envisioned a caboose sitting outside the Depot to honor the building and commemorate the role the railroad played in the town’s development. Her vision was an artist’s studio, but it wasn’t until Kim Keith became executive director of Steamboat Creates that she set her sights on making Bliss’ dream come true.

The iconic caboose first came to Steamboat in 1990 as a donation through the Anschutz Foundation, secured by local realtor and developer Jim Cook.

“I went down to a Denver rail yard and picked the caboose out myself,” Cook said. “But then there were funding issues, of course.”

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For three decades, the caboose sat empty in front of the Depot, a target for graffiti and vandals.

The estimated cost to refurbish the train car was $150,000. In 2017, Main Street Steamboat Springs chose the caboose project as one option in its “Vote Your Mainstreet” campaign. However, despite strong support from the community, the project didn’t win.

Tne caboose at the Depot Art Center.
John F. Russell

Once again, the caboose sat neglected until last year when an anonymous donor contributed money, and the slow transformation began.

First, Brooklyn-based artist Espartaco Albornoz Abreu was hired to paint the exterior.

“We chose him based on his graffiti style work, which represents the correlation between graffiti and railroad cars,” said Dagny McKinley, development director for Steamboat Creates.

How to help

Steamboat Creates is still in need of funds to refurbish the caboose chairs and add locks. If interested in donating to the project, visit steamboatcreates.org.

Featured in the art is Nozco, a genderless character who symbolizes the innocence, childhood and creativity that lives inside everyone. Thus, the caboose was named Nozcaboose.

With the outside finished, several community members stepped up with new donations. Heat and electric now run to the caboose, as well as an exhaust fan for painters. Rumor Design donated their time and materials to transform the inside.

“We don’t often get asked to help design the interior of a caboose, so we thought it would be a fun opportunity and loved the idea of giving back to the community,” said Lindsey Jamison, a partner at the interior design firm. “We had the vision of bold splashes of color mixed in through wallpaper, paint and upholstery fabric, creating an eclectic colorful vibe.

“Our idea was to make a custom bench, small seating area and artist work area separated by paint colors,” Jamison continued. “We had supplies that were left over from past projects that we were able to incorporate into the design. We love the idea of thinking outside the box and being able to create a unique space for artists to work.”

McKinley said the caboose is finally ready to shine. A photography book telling the history of the caboose is being created to keep inside the train car in order to keep its history alive.

The inside of the caboose at the Depot Art Center.
John F. Russell

This summer, Steamboat Creates will host its first artist through the new Caboose Artist Studio Residency program.

“The program, which is free to the artist, provides local artists a place to create without the burden of high rent for a dedicated workspace,” said Sylvie Piquet, program director for Steamboat Creates.

The first artist to utilize the caboose will be Sierra McKee from Young Bloods Collective. McKee will use the studio to create her drawings from June to September and will have an exhibit at the Depot Art Center in August to display the work she has created throughout the summer.

Typically, this will be an open-studio concept, so visitors can go inside to see the artist creating but given the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the studio will be closed to the public until restrictions are lifted.

“We can’t wait to open the doors and see what creativity comes out,” McKinley said.

Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.


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