by Jennifer Denison
A side street in urban Denver, Colorado, is an unlikely place to find bales of hay tucked around a doorway obscured by a black cloth. But it’s how I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I have attended Western art shows from California to Georgia and Canada to Texas, but none quite like the Ranchlands Art Exhibition, which was unveiled to the public at an opening reception on November 20.
The annual event is hosted by Ranchlands, a ranch-management business that partners with owners of large-scale ranches to implement conservation and sustainability programs that co-exist with cattle operations to preserve open space and the ranching lifestyle. The art show is one of the avenues used to bring together people from all ages and walks of life to share a common interest in the land and those who live off of it, as well as showcase the works of Western artists. I went to the show to learn more about the cause and to support the ranches and artists involved, most of which are based in my home state of Colorado.
Unlike most art shows I’ve attended, this one wasn’t formal. In fact, the dress code was blue-jeans casual and the room resembled a tack room, which I’m sure appealed to the ranch cowboys who attended. An old automotive garage was cleaned up and transformed into a quaint Western art gallery for the evening. Well-worn saddles were stacked to the ceiling on wooden racks built especially for the event, a Mason jar chandelier illuminated the main area and hung above a huge stumps that served as countertops for people to stand around and enjoy appetizers. Two small alcoves decorated with spray-painted tumbleweeds had film footage rolling. One film was time lapse showing weather patterns and their affects on Chico Basin Ranch southeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the other was artistically produced, black-and-white footage of ranch horses. The highlight, however, was the works of a dozen Western artists invited to participate.
I strolled through the show, admiring the paintings and noticing the diversity of the crowd. I had no intention of purchasing a piece, until I came to a back wall where The Searchers, a linoleum block print by Denver artist Duke Beardsley, captured my attention. I had just completed an article on the artist so his work was fresh in my mind, but I had not seen this piece. In a bright, monochromatic orange, the print showed two cowboy looking across the range through binoculars with their horses nearby. I’m sure those cowboys were searching for cattle, but Beardsley paints only essential details, leaving the door open to a viewer’s own interpretation. To me, the painting spurred memories of hunting horseback with my dad, who suddenly died of lung cancer this past spring. We’d ride into the mountains for a while, then get off and hobble our horses, have a drink, and call and glass for deer, elk or turkey. The piece touched me so much that I made my first major art purchase.
As an emerging art collector, I’ve found that small paintings, miniature bronzes, studies and prints are all affordable ways to enter the art market and still have money to pay the bills, and buy hay and firewood for winter. Holiday decorations adorn the walls now, but as soon as they come down I have a special place picked out for my new painting where it will remind me of the many reasons I choose to live in the Rocky Mountains.
For more information, call 719-641-4489 or visit ranchlands.com.