Expanding the Circle
Rocky Mountain National Park July 25-28, 2023
Ever since I began my professional art career as a young mom of two babies under two, I knew I was in for the Slow Burn. I was too old to be a Young Phenom, and my family demands required tempered expectations. Given that this was the height of the Great Recession, I figured there was nowhere to go but up, albeit in a gentle ascent. My hot-air balloon take-off was supported by so many people in the art world and I feel blessed by these angels guiding me and pushing me ever higher. Finding my very own tribe of artists has had a similar pace. It was one chance encounter, one meaningful conversation, one shared belly laugh while painting… and, after several years, I can finally say I’m home.
This past week in Estes Park was a chance to live this dream. I spent three nights and two full days painting in Rocky Mountain National Park with dear friends and incredible artists, Jane Hunt, Kim Casebeer, and Kami Mendlik. All of the podcast episodes we texted from the sanctum of our studio came alive with a thread of conversation that never ended. Our vulnerability with each other mirrored the truth of what it means to pursue our art – keep an open heart, clear out our channels of resentments, fears and old stories, witness the beauty as it unfolds – allowing the light of our souls to shine through in our art.
We found a small cabin in Estes Park that perfectly embodied the small town. Its tilted wooden floors covered in four different finishes were unpretentious and endearing. The family of elk, complete with the calves’ spotted coats and watchful mothers was the perfect greeting committee. As planes landed at DIA and bags were retrieved, I snagged one of the few entrance tickets to the coveted Bear Lake Corridor in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were in for a treat. We met for a late dinner with bleary-eyed travelers. No one wanted to be the one in the master bedroom, so, after some consternation, we picked numbers out of the hat. Happy with noise machines and fresh pillows, we were tucked in for the night.
The next day, we packed our lunches and headed for Moraine Park. I discovered one exceptional challenge to painting the mountains on the Eastern Slope, and I’ll try to explain it. I usually paint with with my palette and painting in equal backlight, facing the sun. In the morning on the Eastern Slope, this means I am facing away from the mountains and looking downstream. I realized that, in Steamboat, I have a natural ease in this technique: the morning sun is behind the Great Divide, and all rivers are coming down to greet me. As a solution, I found a thick Spruce tree that provided at least 1 ½ hours of shade, and I was able to look upstream into the mountain ridge. Everything was in front light, but that provided a great opportunity to focus on cloud shadows and slivers of cast shadows on the trees.
We spent the midday exploring the area, discovering easy access to good painting, and assessing the right time to be there. Now we just needed to be in cell service to get that entrance ticket for the next day. We wandered back to Moraine Park and stood in awe of the changing light on the valley floor. As the sun darkened the grasses, the light on the water contrasted beautifully. The snaking Big Thompson River looked like a silver, magical dragon and we drank it in. We snuck in a quick painting of Long’s Peak before we had to run to the visitor center to secure our spot for the next day. (We did and we rejoiced – who knew painting could be so nerve-wracking!) We had one more painting in us, and we went back to Moraine Park to see the sun sink down behind the range. We finished off the day with a perfect meal at the Nepali restaurant down the hill from our cabin.
Quick Family History Note:
My great-grandfather had a lodge on the flats of Moraine Park. My grandfather spent his youth wandering in the park. My grandmother was a camp counselor in the park during her teens. I could feel this deep family connection as we watched the sunset in the valley. I am so grateful for everything my ancestors have done so that I can pursue my dream of being an artist and witnessing the same beauty they did.
After coffee on the porch with the birds and Long’s Peak shining over the trees, we started Day 2. We headed straight for the Bear Lake trailhead and found our places along the shore. We delighted in the visiting families and drank in the beauty of the scene. Our second stop was a cascade along Glacier Creek. It was a difficult subject for me, perhaps because the light was peeking in and out of the clouds. Nevertheless, any afternoon spent by a high mountain creek is never wasted.
The lure of the tundra pulled us up to Trail Ridge Road, and the experience was nothing short of magical. The air was unusually still and clear. The light shone on the abundant glaciers. As a parting gift, we encountered a huge herd of elk, calves, and spikes. They lounged in the short grasses and mini-flowers with the blue mountain ridge behind. There will definitely be a painting from this, I know for sure. Their survival in hardship, and their grace under pressure; this was an inspiration to us all.
Coming down from the intense aura of the mountains, we were also reminded of their power. Our friend Kami suffered from altitude sickness, and we spent some time tracking down some oxygen canisters. I reminded myself to think ahead next time when hosting in the high country. A full jug of water and oxygen canisters need to be on the list.
The next day brought a marked difference in scenery. The five-star resort of the Broadmoor Hotel hosted a large group of artists for the Broadmoor Gallery Art Experience. In the midst of this expanded group of talent and energy, I was finally able to put my finger on what made my new group of friends so special. In the sometimes-competitive ego-driven art world, we had all stepped off the ladder of status. Instead of jockeying for position, we met on even ground and formed a circle. As we encountered more artists at the Broadmoor, we simply had to expand our circle to invite others to join in. I look forward to the years ahead as we grow together, expand our circle, and share what it means to be an artist and a person.