Plein air

Plein air artist Suzie Baker’s view from the easel captures fluttering prayer flags at the west end of town. This is Baker’s eighth year as a participant in Telluride Plein Air festival, which is the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s biggest fundraiser of the year. (Photo courtesy of Suzie Baker)

If this past week felt oddly like time had reverted to early July, you may have spotted one or more of the artists the Sheridan Arts Foundation (SAF) brought to town for its COVID-19-delayed 17th annual Telluride Plein Air Festival. Not only has the annual celebration of outdoor painting been put off until now, rather than July 4th weekend, but the number of artists invited has been reduced from the usual 25 to 11.

Those artists, each of them nationally renowned, have been working at their easels in locations in and around town, becoming one with the elements and the natural light, as they transmit their unique visions onto the canvas. Those works will be on display today (Friday) and Saturday in Elks Park and the Sheridan Opera House courtyard from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Forty percent of the sales of all paintings benefits the SAF, which has seen its revenue virtually eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SAF created the Telluride Plein Air event 17 years ago to benefit community programming and the continual upkeep and restoration at the historic Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, according to a news release. The opera house has been in the business of providing the Telluride community with a diverse range of entertainment since 1913. The venue’s final show of 2020 was March 10, when the jam-band moe. played to a sold-out crowd.

This year’s artists include: Marc Anderson, Kirsten Anderson Nielson, Suzie Baker, Jill Banks, Allen Brockbank, David Dallison, Jody Kauflin, Tammie Lane, Alison Menke, Bill Meuser, and Tara Will. They’ve traveled from Illinois, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, California and Utah, and all over Colorado to set up their easels wherever the muse moves them. Telluride Plein Air’s participating artists were selected through a juried process, in which applicants submitted images and a biography to be reviewed by a panel of artists, gallery owners and educators.

One advantage to the late summer timing of this year’s gathering is that the painters can capture the changing colors of the landscape surrounding Telluride as summer transitions into autumn.

Suzie Baker, now in her eighth year of attending the festival, loves working on the Valley Floor, where, though smoke gives the light a consistent haze, she has enjoyed working on capturing the Valley Floor’s different moods. For Baker, the Valley Floor is like an old friend.

“I always paint the Valley Floor,” Baker said. “It’s such a great welcome into town. I very much appreciate what Telluride has done to make it a priority. It’s so beautiful.”

Another of the visiting artists working on the Valley Floor is Marylander Alison Leigh Menke, who, like Baker, has delighted in the late summer character of the light and hues. The changing aspens and cottonwoods, she said, are giving her “a new play on the palette.”

“As a painter, I’m hoping to catch those fall colors,” Menke said. “Working in the orangey and purple-y hues is so refreshing.”

The muted light caused by smoky skies cuts down on contrast and is a factor that guides her to focus on lines rather than shapes, she said. Bold colors and shapes can be observed from further away, whereas softer tones demand closer inspection.

“The hazy weather is bringing out our pastels,” Menke said. “(The more muted tones in the paintings) tend to invite the viewer in. They’re quieter. There’s intimacy to them.”

In keeping with public health orders for the sale of the plein air works today and tomorrow, each artist will be wearing a mask at all times, each booth will be at least 6 feet apart, and the SAF is encouraging the artists to keep their distance from those who wish to stop and enjoy the art.

Given that the Opera House has been unable to host any of its usual, full slate of events, music and theatre offerings, SAF’s executive director, Ronnie Palamar and staff said that the sales of paintings will greatly aid in Opera House upkeep.

“The annual Telluride Plein Air is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and is more crucial than ever to helping us keep our doors open,” Palamar said.