In 1982, Hermine and I lived in Prairie Village, on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area. On our summer vacation to Colorado, one afternoon we drove south from Westcliffe to La Veta Pass. My dad entertained us with stories about when his family came over the same pass to do migrant work in the San Luis Valley during the depression in the 1930s.I always felt connected to the Rocky Mountains and his stories welded that connection even stronger.
Our destination was a little town called Cuchara. Colorado.com describes it as “classic Colorado — where snow capped mountains meet lush green fields and rushing rivers. Tucked in the eastern shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this serene town rests between the rich forests of the San Isabel National Forest and the Cucharas River, which cuts right through town.” Coming from Kansas and the summer heat, it was exactly what we were hoping for.
Mom and Dad and Hermine and I wandered through the shops and into a gallery that was filled with beautiful western art; sculpture and paintings.
Up a short flight of stairs and I stepped into the studio of the artist and sculptor, Gene Stewart.
Immediately, I was captured by his art. But, the biggest gift he gave me that day was how he stopped working and focused on me. I remember he was working on a cowboy and horse. The horse was finished and he picked it up, showed me the wax figure and I was hooked. He explained his tools, the materials and his process. When I said I wanted to try to sculpt, he gave me a list of materials and told me to start, be bold and go for it.Thatconversation changed everything. I walked out of his studio and told Hermine, “I think I can do that.”
I spent the whole of the next winter season, in my basement, creating my first sculpture. Gene is a western artist. He’s won awards and been published many times. So, of course my first piece would be western too; a cowboy. Before I found my own voice as a sculptor, I borrowed Gene’s.
Today, there is never a moment when I receive a curious question about my work that I don’t think about that summer day in Colorado and the gracious guidance I received.