Judy Haas

Artist Judy Haas opened her first gallery on 230 South Fir St. this week. (Photo by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

Walking into local artist Judy Haas’s new gallery on 230 South Fir St., one is greeted by the friendly faces of Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, who are neighbors along one of the space’s walls. Nearby, John, Paul, George and Ringo look comfortable in their corner, while fellow rockstars Jimi Hendrix and Ben Harper occupy a spot not far from Pearl Jam and Widespread Panic. The gallery, which is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, is a who’s who of music legends, as Haas has most recently focused her artistic energies on “embellishing” concert posters with Swarovski crystals and “diamond dust.”

Opening this week, after she and her daughter Roxy renovated the area within the past month, Haas is excited and proud to have her first gallery in Telluride in realizing a lifelong dream.

“I’ve shown in a lot of galleries, but I’ve never had my own gallery, so this is the first adventure into owning my own gallery,” said Haas, who has been a professional artist since 1985. “I think every artist wants their own gallery, but you have to have a lot of work to be able to have your own gallery. I’ve been doing this particular work of embellishing these posters with crystals since 2016, so I collected a lot of work.”

Born and raised in Aspen, Haas gained notoriety for her trout pastels, which were featured as part of the Art in Embassies Program during the 1990s.

“I showed my work in embassies around the world. That was my first recognition of my artwork. They’re all over the place,” she said, adding that the trout pieces were a hit in the fly fishing world as well, as she’s shown them in mountain towns around the West.

Moving to Telluride in 2008, she kept a small studio space on Oak Street for a time and became involved in the local arts scene. Many may know her work from the Ah Haa School for the Arts over the years, including her fractal pieces. The self-taught artist also has experience in photography, ceramics and mixed media. Her work has been featured at New York’s Alexander Gallery, Beadleston Gallery in New York and London, Houston’s Meredith Long Gallery in Houston, and American Museum of Flyfishing in New Hampshire.

But it was a friend who approached her in 2016 with an original 1987 Grateful Dead Telluride poster that set her on her current path of collecting and beautifying band bills.

“I did that and it was just so cool I thought, ‘I’m going to do some more rock ’n’ roll posters.’ I started doing a whole bunch of rock ’n’ roll posters and had my first show at The Butcher & The Baker, and then I sort of branched out into the vintage French posters, the movie posters and the other kind of collection of posters I have in here.”

The gallery is home to approximately 250 posters, a number that is seemingly forever growing, Haas joked, as she finds the posters via online auctions and outlets. The Swarovski crystals, named after the family owned business that was started in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, are imported from Austria, the company’s original home. It’s like anything else one would collect, she said, it starts as a passing interest then turns into an almost obsessive habit, but creating each piece is more therapeutic than anything.

“It takes a long time. I have to glue every single crystal on the poster. I’ve listened to probably hundreds of books in the last four years. Audible loves me because I just listen to books all day and glue all these crystals onto these posters,” she said. “I usually work on them everyday, and with COVID, I was working on them every single day. Before I had this gallery, I’d work on them and put them in storage, work on them and put them in storage, thinking someday there will be an opportunity to show this work. It’s a meditation for me. I really love working on them. It’s very calming; it’s my work.”

The embellished posters, which sparkle and come to life under the gallery’s lighting, start at $500 and go up from there. Haas also takes commissions, including album covers, but don’t ask her if she has a favorite piece.

“No, I don’t. My favorite piece is usually the one I’m working on at the time because it changes. I’ll get one done and go, ‘Oh, that’s my favorite one,’ and then I’ll get another and say, ‘No, no. This is my favorite one,’” she said with a laugh, though she does have a fondness for the older stone lithograph movie posters, “they’re just so wonderful.”

At one point before the interview ends, Haas goes into the back and brings out a large, cardboard folder filled with unembellished posters. She sets it on the floor, bends down and begins leafing through them. She picks up a Pixies poster and points to the quality of the paper.

“That’s a more expensive one,” she said. “You can just tell.”

Then she finds a smaller Leftover Salmon one.

“This one was made for mass production,” she explained.

On a table nearby, dozens of untouched movie posters curled at the corners are piled up waiting to be plucked from the stack and attended to. All in good time. With a year lease, Haas will continue to devise, design and share her creations with the world.

“The posters are like my canvas, and then I add all kinds of things to the posters,” she said. “People have an emotional attachment to certain musicians and certain places where they saw those musicians.”