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Another leg on the virtual tour

 My tour is halfway over , but so much excitement and fun still await me. It’s time for me to continue my virtual tour of the Pagosa Springs Arts Council’s 2009 Artists’ Studio and Gallery Tour.

I’m heading back south on Piedra Road; I reach the turn into Pagosa Lakes on North Pagosa Boulevard. Just a couple more right turns bring me to the residence and studio of Catherine Wagner.

 Wagner comments to me, “I always feel the need to be creating something.” It is this creative spark, this desire to let out one’s inner energy that seems to drive most artists.

The artistic drive is certainly within Catherine Wagner; originally from New England, she has been making and selling art since she was a teenager.

Her studio is immaculate and precise, reflective of the order and pattern of her hand knits. I marvel at Catherine’s built-in shelving and cubbies that house the raw materials of her trade. I study and marvel at the many colors and textures of her yarns! I stroll over to the other side of Wagner’s upstairs studio to view her latest handmade paste papers and one-of-a-kind, hand-bound books.

Catherine explains to me that the term “paste paper” refers to a method of decorating the surface of paper with a “paste” medium. She uses mixture of acrylic paint and wheat paste. “I apply many layers of this mixture (about eight), making the designs with various tools on each layer,” says Wagner. She adds that she lets each layer dry thoroughly before applying the next layer, and she says she works on both sides of the paper. Wagner uses her hand-designed paste papers as covers as well as the pages of her books, hand-bound using the Coptic bookbinding technique developed by early Christians in Egypt, and used from as early as the 2nd century. I’m thoroughly enjoying watching Wagner’s demonstration of Coptic binding; an intriguing process that makes for a beautifully-bound book. Her books, all unique works of art, can be used for journaling, photo albums, drawing, collage, or as guest books. She asks me if I want to see a quick demonstration of spinning yarn on her spinning wheel. Of course! I head downstairs for a viewing of Wagner’s latest watercolors; a plein air series she created while in Tucson; both “Saguaro Shadows” and “Tucson Garden,” appear in this year’s studio tour brochure. I stop to peruse Wagner’s Tucson drawing and painting journal.

Now it’s time for me to head south on North Pagosa Boulevard to the residence and studio of Sandy Applegate.

 I always enjoy visiting Sandy’s studio, upstairs and with a spectacular mountain view.

What does Applegate have in store for her patrons this year? I slip off my shoes and make my way upstairs. Since I’ve come to know Applegate as an artist and friend, my appreciation and admiration for her diverse artistic talents has soared. Will she be demonstrating one of her “Landscape Morphs,” where she “doodles” a pen and ink landscape over a newly-created watercolor background? It really doesn’t matter, because I like to watch Sandy create, no matter what her medium or subject of choice. Her technique captures and mesmerizes me, yet Applegate continues to carry on a detailed conversation about what she’s doing, what she’s creating. I peer around Applegate’s studio for glimpses of her other works; her “Dorothy and DoeDoe” and “Time Pieces” series are lying beside us on the shelf in the corner. And one of her “ORBS” pieces sits on an easel.

“I prefer to create my art work while it is lying flat,” says Sandy. “I have always worked in this manner. It’s what I’m used to doing in my creative process.” Much of Applegate’s work incorporates the formal element, the circle, to represent life, growth and continuity. “(The circle) can be viewed as microscopic or macroscopic, cells or solar systems.” In her “Landscape Morph” series, which she is demonstrating at the moment, she incorporates a multitude of small circles to represent elements in nature. The circle also appears in Applegate’s “Raven” and “Lenore” paintings, which are based on word images from Edgar Allen Poe’s fabulous poem. In both of these series, the circle represents mystery and the Life Force. In her “ORBS” paintings, the circle represents the universe or sun; nurturing heat, peace and serenity, or conversely, the possibility of fire-burning cataclysm. All fine examples of Applegate’s deft use of symbolism in her art!

Well, I have to say goodbye for now to Sandy and make my way to my next stop along the tour; the residence and studio of Sindey Greher. I head further south on North Pagosa Boulevard to its second intersection of Lake Forest Circle. Not far off the main road, I arrive at the Greher’s home.

 Sindey greets me at her front door, and directs me upstairs to her studio. Greher is a prolific painter. As a result, the Greher’s home is somewhat of a museum. As a fellow artist, I understand the artist’s need and drive to create. I’m immediately drawn in by Greher’s use of color and form. Her abstract acrylic paintings are vibrant with highly-detailed surfaces. I step back a bit further from “Blue Indian Vase” to catch an actual glimpse of the vase Sindey has so deftly “hidden” with her unique style. Greher’s works often incorporate mixed media such as fabrics and paper; many of her works are quite tactile. Sindey, a New York native, tells me, “I spent some of my early years in Antigua, West Indies. There I was influenced by Caribbean art, music and culture.” I now understand the roots of Sindey’s enigmatic forms. Sindey adds that her work is greatly influenced by the MFA education she received from New York University, where she studied the great painters Edouard Vuillard, Paul Klee, Mondrian, Kandinsky and Chardin. I can see the influences of some of these great masters in Greher’s works. Her love of color and form transcends perhaps from Kandinsky’s theoretical analysis of these elements as a purely subjective form of experience; letting colors and forms act on one’s own living sensibility. Similar to Klee, Greher uses colors in a variety of unique and diverse ways, manipulating them with skill and passion across her canvas. Earlier this year, Greher’s work delighted audiences in her group exhibit with artists Rachel Leigh Alber and Kay Harper Roberts at the Pagosa Springs Arts Council’s Town Park Gallery.

Now to my next stop; one of my favorites — SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts. What awaits me there? Contain yourself, Linda! My excitement builds.

 In 2004, artists and collectors D. Michael and Denise Coffee created this oasis of contemporary art in the heart of Pagosa Lakes’ commercial district. Once a utilitarian automobile repair shop, this fully-renovated, fresh and eclectic art space transformed by the Coffee’s hands has become one of the region’s premier contemporary art centers. Fast forward to 2009, the space now encompasses 4,000 square feet, with two 1,000 square feet exhibition spaces, a 400 square-foot foyer gallery, and 1,600 square feet of studio workshop space.

I’m thrilled the Coffees decided to locate their SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts studio here! Leading edge and edgy every step of the way, the Coffee’s space is like none other on this tour. No, I’m not going to give away all the surprises the Coffees have in store for this year’s studio tour enthusiasts. You have to come see for yourselves. I’m certainly glad, though, to have this opportunity to take a closer look at the SHY RABBIT’s current exhibit, “SHY RABBIT Print National,” a national exhibition of printmaking juried by Michael D. Barnes, associate professor and head of the Printmaking program at Northern Illinois University.

Such inspiration stands before me on these walls! SHY RABBIT’s national print exhibit runs through Oct. 10. Don’t miss it! As I meander through this exhibit, I recall my recent experiences in Michael’s “Printmaking without a Press I” introductory workshop. In no time, I was pulling reductive ink monoprints like a true pro. Well, almost! But mastery will come with time, and I’m looking forward to developing my printmaking prowess under Michael’s tutelage. I enjoy Coffee’s instruction style; he’s laid back and approachable and thoroughly revels in sharing his knowledge with others. In addition to “Printmaking without a Press”, Coffee teaches workshops in how to photograph your art work, Photoshop basics and ceramics. What an impressive workshop slate. Michael’s “Basic Ceramic Techniques and Hand-building I” is a two-day workshop focusing on hand forming, texturing, and assembling clay, all without the use of a potter’s wheel or other equipment. For those who desire to learn or build their skills in throwing, Michael’s “Ceramics from the Potter’s Wheel” workshop is the ticket. This five-week course establishes good working fundamentals for students who have never used the potter’s wheel or for those who are continuing to build their basic skills. Local ceramists Charla Ellis, Bernie Reinhardt and Ulla Neuburger, all students of Michael Coffee, are on board today demonstrating their wheel throwing techniques. Even Michael himself is creating in a Zen-like state at one of the wheels.

With my visit now complete at SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts, I jaunt right on over to say hello to Susanne Russell, owner of Art and Framing Center of Pagosa.

 Will I time my Art and Framing Center stop perfectly for a chance studio visit with photographer Bruce Andersen? After all, Bruce, who recently moved from Pagosa Springs, is still represented by Susanne. Only time will tell, but the chance is there! Even if I don’t see Bruce Andersen or highly-acclaimed western artist Milton Lewis in the flesh, I can admire their art work in person. Andersen is known around southwestern Colorado as “the outdoor guy” of professional photographers. I best know and love Bruce’s outdoors and nature photography, especially his panoramic scenes and unusually mounted works. His “Mountain Bluebirds” dons this year’s studio tour brochure, and is a fine example of Bruce’s professional eye for capturing nature in its splendor. You can see this Andersen image and others during this year’s tour at the Art & Framing Center of Pagosa.

From Andersen’s work, I stroll over to look through Susanne’s Milton Lewis prints. Lewis’ early life in the Montana Rocky Mountains instilled in him, like in many artists, his love of the great outdoors. I can understand why Lewis’ upbringing shaped his life and inspired him in his artistic approach. Lewis, a onetime Pagosa resident, who primarily paints in oils now, has combined transparent and opaque watercolors to create his fluid landscapes. Lewis’ figures, many painted with gouache, seem to float right over the paper. Lewis has always experimented; new colors, movement, contrast and light. His subtle use of color and light is his hallmark.

While I miss seeing Bruce and Milton this time, my visit with Susanne is a delight! Her wry humor and anecdotes have made for an interesting conversation. But these are not all that make Susanne a joy to be around. You see, Russell is an exquisitely trained and masterful fine art framer with over 30 years of experience. Her talents transform each piece she touches. In my 50 years in Houston, I only came across one other framer with Susanne’s expertise, Wellhausen’s Custom Frame and Gift Gallery nestled in Houston’s quaint Rice Village. None other have framed my art with such skill and perfection.

I bid Susanne farewell for now; my next stop, Pierre Mion’s residence and studio, another studio tour favorite.

 What can I say about artist Pierre Mion that hasn’t already been said before? It’s hard, but one thing is for certain – he is a true renaissance man in every sense of the word.

I first met Pierre Mion on Pagosa Springs Arts Council’s 2005 Artist Studio Tour. The more I come to know him, the more I see his many talents. Whether as an automobile or motorcycle racer, or a fine artist and illustrator, Mion’s life spans many stellar accomplishments. Just one such accomplished goal is more than most of us ever achieve in our one lifetime. Not Mion — that wouldn’t be enough! I pull into the Mion’s driveway and cannot wait to step inside his studio. I wonder if Pierre still has his first drawing, done at the age of 2 1/2. I must ask him. It is a rendering of a circus tent and Ferris wheel he had seen in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’d love to see Pierre’s early work created so many years before his meteoric career rise. But I know that I’ll be just as happy to talk with Pierre again and view some of his artistic creations for NASA, illustrative views of the then-unknown outer space. “Do not go where the path may lead,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” This is just what Mion did. His relationship with NASA nearly spanned the agency’s 50-year history; something that has left him with a multitude of memories the envy of anyone. Mion’s freelance career also provided him with the opportunity to create commissioned illustrations with National Geographic Magazine for a period of over 38 illustrious years. During that time, Mion’s work spanned a great variety of subjects; including historical, oceanographic, architectural, geological, mining, forestry, environmental and transportation. “Working with National Geographic Magazine was probably the most rewarding aspect of my career.” His lifelong contributions to this great publication were honored in the 2005 exhibit, “National Geographic: The Art of Exploration,” a collection of vivid, lifelike paintings of the natural world which included other notable artist masters; N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, James Gurney, Charles Knight and Tom Lovell to name a few.

Before I leave Mion’s studio, I make sure to catch a glimpse of one of Norman Rockwell’s paint brushes, held gently and reverently by the hand of an angel form. You see, Norman Rockwell called on Mion in 1966 to assist him with a series of space paintings for Look Magazine. For the next twelve years the two collaborated on a number of project assignments for Look and IBM until Rockwell’s death in 1978. During this period Mion ghost-painted one of Rockwell’s paintings and worked directly on several others. “Pierre Mion has packed a lot of remarkable experience and fine work into what, to me, seems a short career. When working with me he has always been so kind, intelligent and understanding. He has a great deal of talent,” reported Rockwell about his collaboration with Mion. Mion responds, “I love to paint, paint, paint!  It’s what I do, have always done and will continue to do until I drop dead.” A sentiment I share as an artist with Pierre Mion!

 Well, I’ve made my last stop of the week, folks. Stayed tuned next week for Leg No. 4, the last leg of my virtual tour of the Pagosa Springs Arts Council’s 2009 Artists’ Studio & Gallery Tour. I’ll continue my tour from Pierre Mion’s residence and studio, visiting the residence and studio of Jana Parkes, where Jana and three other talented and creative women artists gather to collectively demonstrate and discuss their art: Sueyel Grace, Jean Koenig and Lynnzie Sutton. From Parkes’ studio, I’ll head further southwest on Trujillo Road to Chad Haspels’ residence and studio; then swing around for my stop of the tour; the residence and studio of Anthony and Kathleen Steventon.

 Pick up your tour brochures now; there are plenty left for you and your art-loving friends. Brochures are available through the Pagosa Springs Area 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 any time from 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. Join your family and friends and enjoy this once-a-year celebration of the arts.