Tellurado Studio

Tellurado Studio gallery owner Mitch Schwenke stands in front of the original Tellurado painting, a collaborative everyman narrative about adventure and wandering between Schwenke and artist Markus Pierson. (Photo by Amy M. Peters/Telluride Daily Planet)

Dubbed a “refuge” where visitors are welcome to “relax and slowly take in the tales of romance, philosophy and footloose souls,” a new art gallery called Tellurado Studio opened on Nov. 27 on the east end of Main Street. The gallery features paintings exclusively by fine artist Markus Pierson. In the 1980s, inspired by Joni Mitchell’s song “Coyote” — about a reckless Cassanova called “Coyote” — Pierson painted billboards by day for a living and started painting coyotes at night.

“I felt the Coyote Series was perfect for Telluride,” said gallery owner Mitch Schwenke. “Because of the message of adventure and romance. So I trademarked the term ‘Tellurado.’”

The new Tellurado Coyote Series, comprised of original, limited edition prints, and “hand embellished,” one-of-a-kind paintings, now hangs from the walls of the small gallery.

“Like most artists, Markus wants to tell a story,” Schwenke explained. “But that’s hard to do with abstract or a series of lines.”

In fact, Pierson applies words directly onto his paintings.

“His message is: ‘Get out, live life.’ It’s about adventure, romance, success, and being entrepreneurial,” Schwenke added.

Pierson uses acrylic on board to create images and colors that pop so that they appear almost three-dimensional. Every piece features a coyote character and includes a specific narrative.

“I believe the collection reflects on everyone who’s moved here. There’s just something special about Telluride,” Schwenke said. “Thirty-five years later and Markus is more purposeful than ever. Not many artists last that long.”

Schwenke rode his Harley into town 12 years ago, and like many others, didn’t want to leave. Over the years he worked towards the goal to open a gallery in Telluride by 2020.

“I did this for myself. I said I’m going to get myself to Telluride by the time I’m 60, which was this year, preferably in a gallery or bistro kind of atmosphere,” he said. “And age gracefully. And enjoy the rest of my life.”

In spite of COVID-19 and the typical slow days of early December, Schwenke’s gallery opening has gone well.

“I was open for the Art Walk last week and the locals have been very welcoming and intrigued by the gallery,” he said. “And business has stepped-up with the arrival of holidays guests.”

Those same holiday guests are picking up Tellurado Studio stocking stuffers like hats, backpacks, hoodies, coasters and even dog bowls.

Tellurado’s atmosphere is warm — dimly lit with Tiffany lamps — and inviting, as though you’re hanging out in a friend’s living room. With coffee brewing and Norah Jones easing off the speakers, the space is anchored by a large leather couch, a coffee table and a pair of easy chairs for lounging.

That the gallery is atmospheric is no surprise as Schwenke is a seasoned restaurateur who has operated “themed art galleries” in his restaurants since 1997, offering Pierson’s Coyote Series exclusively since 2002. He still operates a private supper club, The Blue Coyote Supper Club, in Ft. Myers, Florida, so moving forward, Schwenke plans to split his time between Ft. Myers and Telluride.

Whether operating a cigar bar or a dinner spot with a blues stage, a coffee café or a wine bar over the years, Schwenke has been attracted to art that can hold its own hanging on a restaurant’s walls — art that is “wild, colorful and big.” To that end, he has displayed art in his various restaurants with themes ranging from hawks to the “Secret Art of Dr. Seuss” — and now — Pierson’s coyotes. He’s done brisk business acquiring and selling mostly limited editions, which are scans of original paintings offered in different sizes.

“All of Markus’ art has a story to it which strikes me as really cool and conversational within the walls of a restaurant and bar area,” noted Schwenke. “And I sell these pieces right off the walls.”

Markus, who now lives in Maine, has visited Telluride twice. A couple of years ago, one of his original paintings was featured as the Telluride Wine Festival poster, the limited edition series of which is now nearly sold out.

With “restaurant in his blood,” Shwenke would eventually like to operate a bistro in town and continue to sell art off its walls. In the meantime, he’ll settle for “offering free coffee to the perpetually restless” or, at least, to those interested in Pierson’s coyote art and its stories.

For more information on the new Tellurado Studio, visit telluradostudio.com or stop by the gallery located at 219 East Colorado Ave.