Camp V

The Prairie Wind Chapel, an interactive art installation by Robert Hoehn, is open to the public at Camp V, just outside of Naturita. (Courtesy photo)

For many who live close to the beauty of nature, time spent in the great outdoors is a spiritual practice. Whether on the top of a craggy mountain surrounded by glittering peaks or in the undulating depths of a red rock canyon, the words “this is my church” have floated heavenward more than once.

Now, nature lovers, spiritual seekers and everyone in between have a new place to find a moment of reverence. On Monday, a new art installation opened just outside of Naturita on the 120-plus acre site of Camp V, a newly minted haven of refurbished cabins, Airstreams and camping with an emphasis on art and community. The art piece, “Prairie Wind Chapel” by California-based artist Robert Hoehn, is an open-air chapel made of panels of canvas draped over a pipe organ powered by a towering windmill. Free and open to the public, the installation is meant to be experienced and enjoyed by all, whether it be stealing a quiet moment of reflection inside the chapel or making some music of one’s own by trying one of the three organs installed by Hoehn.

“I wanted to work in concert with the wind,” Hoehn said of including a large, old-school windmill as part of the piece. “The wind is providing the energy, and people are providing the notes.”

Set against a backdrop of tawny rock, fragrant sage and twisting juniper, the “prairie” element of the chapel’s namesake offers a nod to Hoehn’s grandparents and great grandparents, who homesteaded on the prairieland of Saskatchewan. Hoehn recalls standing atop a car on his grandparent’s property as a child, gazing out at the wide, open landscape that seemed to reveal planetary dimensions.

“I could see so far, it felt like I could see all the way into the next province,” he recalled.

The chapel, the artist said, “is a homesteader homage,” intended to provide a “pop-up sacred space” for people of any — or no — religious affiliation. Choosing the undulating lands of the transitional desert ecosystem as a home for the chapel was not by coincidence. The vastness of the rural landscape and the dark night skies is perfect for a space of serenity and reflection away from the modern distractions of cities and screens.

The founders of Camp V, Natalie Binder and Bruce and Jodie Wright, also aim to offer a community space of serenity and connection at the property, acquired in 2017 and crafted into a place that offers lodging and camping for visitors as well as creativity and art for the surrounding community.

“It became clear to us that bringing art to rural communities, and specifically this rural community, was really important,” Binder recalled of the founding trio’s inspiration for Camp V. “It became more about this mission of art as a way to unite rural communities, begin conversations and bring people together.”

At Monday’s small, masked open house to unveil Prairie Wind Chapel and celebrate a “soft opening” for the property’s newly refurbished cabins, people gathered from around the region to tour the chapel and cabins and participate in a question and answer conversation with the artist. The gathering represented the kind of community connection that Binder was hoping the space would facilitate.

“At one point, everyone was standing by the fire next to the chapel having a conversation,” said Binder. “That’s exactly what our mission is, to bring people together through art. There are a lot of hard conversations that we need to have, and I think this feels accessible to a wide range of people.”

To further the mission of bringing people together through art, Binder and the Wrights founded the nonprofit WE Arts, which stands for West End Arts, through which artistic opportunities offer a medium for “curiosity, connection and creation” in the region, according to the nonprofit's mission statement.

Hoehn, who spent the past three months installing Prairie Wind Chapel, often spent his days digging rocks out of the frozen ground, noted the transformative power of art and creativity and encouraged people to stop by.

“I’ve seen the power of art to change communities,” he said. “It’s here, 24/7, and it’s meant to for anyone to stop by and discover.”