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2009 Artists’ Studio and Gallery Tour, Leg No. 2

The morning’s air is crisp; the sky blue bird. The balloons in their brilliant colors lifted off this morning; now landed.

I continue my tour starting from Cappy White’s Old Stones Furniture Company studio just up Snowball Road. What a magnificent day still in store for me! I head back to Pagosa Street for a short hop west to Jeff Laydon’s Pagosa Photography studio in downtown Pagosa Springs. My next stop on this year’s Pagosa Springs Arts Council Artists’ Studio and Gallery Tour! I never get bored visiting Jeff Laydon’s studio; things there are always abuzz. Sometimes I get to catch a photo shoot in progress; perhaps a pre-wedding photo of the happy bride- and groom-to-be, or a glamorous shoot of a beautiful graduating senior. Laydon makes his career, photography, look easy. He is a skillful artisan who puts his subjects at ease as if he were not even there. I perhaps best appreciate Laydon’s nature photography; it emulates the peaceful, yet powerful environment of the inspirational Pagosa Springs area. Jeff’s nature work is a distillation of the emotional experience of natural beauty around us. Laydon captures the sublime magnificence and power of nature in his images. Jeff professes, “My career in photography has been quite an adventure. I’m grateful for the chance to take pictures for and of the people around me. It is gratifying beyond my expectations and has become a mission.”

Next stop, Wild Spirit Gallery, Fine Art of the West, just next door.

 I step inside Madeline Lyon’s Wild Spirit Gallery, and suddenly have the opportunity to see four featured studio tour artists at work; Elizabeth Claire Baldwin, Jeanine Malaney, Melinda Nemechek and Treva Wheeless. I walk over to Elizabeth Claire Baldwin’s demonstration and watch her handcrafting a new necklace. Baldwin is an exceptional instructor, as her Pagosa Springs Arts Council workshop students know first-hand. Baldwin earned ha BFA in metalsmithing and jewelry, and applies her skills to create unique, semiprecious jewelry, primarily with beads, sometimes incorporating her own handcrafted findings in silver. “I remember the precise moment I fell in love with beads,” exclaims Baldwin. “I was 13. My aunt came to visit and taught me how to make Native American-style earrings with seed beads.” From that point on, Baldwin has been drawn to her craft, and in particular beads. Baldwin’s creations incorporate sterling silver, copper, pearls, glass and wood beads and earthen elements of semiprecious stones from around the world. “I’m captivated by color and enjoy the effects colors have on a person. Sometimes my best designs come from the gorgeous color combinations I see hiking through the National Forest.” Her custom pieces, which are Baldwin’s favorite creative opportunities, are always reflective of the individual’s style and personality. And what more talented, easy-going person is there to work with than Lizz? Baldwin’s styles range from classic to contemporary, precious to powerful, and delicate to dynamic. Baldwin, represented locally by Wild Spirit Gallery, has worked with successful jewelry companies whose clients included Coldwater Creek, Sundance, and J. Marco.

 From Lizz’s demonstration I stroll over to see what Jeanine Malaney is creating. Will it be an oil painting, or perhaps a transparent watercolor — one in her latest abstracted series inspired by the photography of colossal stars and nebulae captured by the Hubble Space Telescope? Malaney is creating a new landscape, a mixed media fabric collage, which she embellishes with acrylic and thread using a technique she refers to as “Painting with Fabric.” Malaney studies her fabric “canvas,” steps back; then deftly cuts an unusually-shaped strip of fabric. She approaches her “canvas,” affixing the fabric strip with glue to create an element of her new landscape. Slowly the landscape unfolds and I begin to see the majestic mountains and sky in the background. “I want to create fine art that emotionally touches others in a positive way. It is my goal that my art be a venue for peace, calmness, and spiritual renewal.” This is her passion, her mission. Malaney donates 50 percent of her profits and art to charitable causes in the community. One can see her altruistic values reflected in her aesthetic. Malaney’s preferred style is American Western Realism. While she paints mostly in transparent watercolor, Malaney also works in oils, which she used to create “Taro Fields,” a painting that appears in this year’s studio tour brochure. “The spirit of the American West is bound up in the land, its wide open spaces, big skies, purple mountains majesty, horses and wildlife running with the wind, all symbolizing our freedom to enjoy the vastness of the western landscape. Native American and cowboy lore fan the fire of our infatuation with the American West.” Malaney is also represented locally by Wild Spirit Gallery.

 I move on now to watch nationally-known landscape artist Melinda Nemechek at work. I know of Melinda’s work through her majestic oil landscapes of the Rocky Mountain West; I’ve seen her oils of Aspen groves in fields dotted with wildflowers on numerous occasions. She also is well known for her canyon paintings of the Southwest. I’ve never met Melinda, so I introduce myself. It turns out that Melinda lives and paints in her Paint the Wind Studio, located in the mountains southwest of Denver at an attitude of almost 9,000 feet. Nemechek says her studio is surrounded by Aspen and Pine, which give her unbounded inspiration. As I study Nemechek’s technique, I learn that she uses a close-up, limited perspective in her paintings that leads the viewer into feeling that he or she is actually a witness to the scene. I can understand why Nemechek strives to bring the beauty of nature to her paintings; her works create “a sense of balance and peace in a harried world. As long as I can remember I drew and painted,” reflects Nemechek. “I grew up in Kansas, and lived on a ranch for a while where horses and dogs were my favorite subjects.” She also loved old barns and fences that to her represented the old west. “I especially love Aspen trees. I love the way the sunlight plays through the branches, like the sun trying to chase away the shadows.” Evident in some of her new paintings, Melinda Nemechek still likes old barns, little cabins and the adobe buildings of the Southwest. Nemechek has been a patron favorite of Wild Spirit Gallery since the gallery opened.

 Now I mosey on over to say hello to jewelry artist Treva Wheeless and watch her create a new bracelet. I love Treva’s work involving the use of vintage beads, unique metals and African trade beads. It was a delight for me to see her bead and finding collection during last year’s studio tour. Wheeless, of Arts by Treva, works with quality natural stones and gemstones, pearls, crystals, high-quality silver and other metals. Wheeless’ exposure to many cultures through living in South America in the early 1970s and traveling around the globe has enhanced her sense of color and style and influenced many of her jewelry designs. In Wheeless’ designs, her inspiration is the materials, be it an interesting found focal piece, or the color, texture and shape of the components. Her designs incorporate a wide range of themes from simple, delicate, even primitive, to intricate, exotic and elaborate. Wheeless’ personal favorites are those where she has been able to mix various design elements to make the jewelry more interesting and truly unique. Wheeless’ formal training was in interior design and after 30 years of working with color, texture, balance and perspective, she has been able to use these skills in creating one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces. Wheeless is represented locally by Wild Spirit Gallery, as well as in stores in Denver, Durango, Texas and Indiana.

 Now I hit the road again, for a drive up Piedra Road to the Cave Creek Glassworks and Woodworks studio of Marcia and Gerry Kmack — another tour first. The Kmacks came from Cave Creek, Ariz. I met Marcia at the Park to Park Fourth of July festival two years ago. At the time, she was displaying her exquisite hot glass Lampwork beads and jewelry, and I was enthralled by her works’ beauty and contemporary look. I learned Marcia and Gerry had bought a place in the Pagosa Springs area and were setting up their studio here. The next time our paths crossed, Marcia and Gerry stopped to talk with me at Treva Wheeless’ studio during last year’s tour. The Kmacks were thrilled to see the quality, depth and breadth of the Pagosa Springs Arts Council’s 2008 Artists’ Studio & Gallery Tour; and didn’t want to miss this year’s opportunity. As I drive along Piedra Road, I can’t help but reflect on my many memories of the National Forest area unfolding before me. But this time I’m even more thrilled to get to see the Kmack’s studio for the first time! My first question to Marcia is, “What is lampworking?” Marcia responds that lampworking is a type of glasswork that uses a gas-fueled torch to melt rods and tubes of clear and colored glass. “Once in a molten state, the glass is formed by blowing and shaping with a variety of tools and hand movements,” Marcia exclaims. She adds a poignant note about the challenges Gerry and she faced because of our elevation’s lack of oxygen. I can imagine, as I know from experience the difficulties of the burn-out step in the lost wax casting process in our rarified atmosphere. Still, it wasn’t too difficult for the Kmack’s to determine a workable solution. Marcia has been creating lampwork beads since she learned in 1998 at The Red Hot Glass Shop; that space is now her own studio in Cave Creek. In October 2002, Marcia Kmack established Cave Creek Glassworks. Since opening, she has taught hundreds of new bead artists in this process. As if I’m not already thoroughly blown away by Marcia’s artistic abilities, I learn that Gerry Kmack is quite the wood artist. Gerry creates turned wood vessels, andso beautifully hand crafted custom wood furniture. I knew I was in for a treat when I first saw the image of Gerry’s turned wood vessel for this year’s studio tour brochure. What exquisite wood inlays and patterning!

 That’s my last stop for this week, folks. Stayed tuned next week for Leg No. 3 of my virtual tour of the Pagosa Springs Arts Council’s 2009 Artists’ Studio and Gallery Tour.

 Pick up your tour brochures early this year as supplies are somewhat limited. Brochures areavailable at the Chamber of Commerce, Pagosa Springs Arts Council, the following sponsoring businesses, and our participating artists: Art & Framing Center of Pagosa; Artisans of the Southwest Art Gallery and Wine Tasting Room; Handcrafted Interiors; Lantern Dancer Gallery; Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op; Pagosa Photography; Pagosa Springs Arts Council; SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts; and Wild Spirit Gallery. Don’t despair if you miss out on the tour brochure, exquisitely designed by Roxanne Schick of Artyrox Graphic & Web Design; the detailed tour directions and tour map can both be downloaded from the Pagosa Springs Arts Council Web site at www.pagosa-arts.com/ASTour09.html, or stop by our Town Park Gallery Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., and we’ll print you a copy.

 The tour, free to the public, is slated for Saturday, Sept. 12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 13, noon to 5 p.m.