UnCover Colorado – September 4, 2021 by Jessica Hughes
Often when someone references the art scene in Colorado, major cities like Denver, and well-known mountain towns like Aspen and Breckenridge, are the first to be mentioned. But did you know there are big things happening in the art world in the small towns of Walsenburg and La Veta?
Located in southern Colorado, in what is known as the Spanish Peaks region, these community-focused hamlets are at the forefront of creating something special within the state’s art scene.
New programs like FAROUT Murals and big events like Art in the Park in La Veta, were created out of the need to pump some life into these small communities. Beyond the city lights of Denver and its Santa Fe Arts District, discover below how you can experience the arts in the Spanish Peaks region of Colorado. Consider adding these art attractions to your Southern Colorado road trip itinerary.
Walsenburg, once dubbed “the city built on coal”, is now being fueled by the arts. Beyond the town’s historic landmarks that harken days of the past, Walsenburg now features other notable landmarks with its colorful murals and local art museum.
Walsenburg Mural Project
Decades of wall paintings have turned Walsenburg into an unexpected cultural hub for the arts. Local artist Ken Martinez, along with artists Jason Crum and Dean Fleming, are the creators behind the mural at 418 Main Street, next to Heritage Park, in downtown Walsenburg. The mural (shown above) depicts the history of Walsenburg and the Spanish Peaks area with illustrations of miners and Native Americans and the hard lives they lived in this area.
This mural sparked the beginning of what is called the Walsenburg Mural Project. The first official mural of this project can be found behind the Safeway building in town. This was a community project where everyone came out to help create this colorful piece of work.
Another notable mural in town is at the corner of 7th and Main. Martinez and artist Carlos Silva created this mural of Chief Cuerno Verde with the scenic route of the Highway of Legends drawn out. The prominent image of the Native American symbolizes the fact that they once – and some still do – lived on this land.
Museum of Friends
In October of 2007, the Museum of Friends opened its doors with the hopes of sharing its outstanding collection of contemporary art with the residents and visitors of Walsenburg. Co-founder Brendt Berger came from New York to Huerfano County to work with fellow artist Dean Fleming, an original member of the artist community, Libre. With his friend’s help, Berger and his wife Maria created MOF to support the extraordinary lineage of artists who have contributed to the arts in the area.
Featured in publications such as Modern in Denver and Art in America, the Museum of Friends was put on the map with its impressive collection of contemporary art brought to Walsenburg by Brendt and Maria. While they certainly aren’t the first artists from NYC to pick up and move out west, they are the first to attempt this sort of project in Huerfano County, let alone Walsenburg.
The museum’s initial collection of over 600 pieces were donated through friends of the owners. The downstairs collection features rotating exhibits, while the upstairs features their permanent collection. And over the years, they have added near 1,000 more pieces to their collection.
Maria has also contributed to the murals in town with one of the more noticeable ones across from the museum, in the Miners Plaza.
The Museum of Friends is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Walsenburg’s latest art endeavor comes from the collaborative work between the Huerfano County Placemaking Committee and SPACE Studios. FAROUT Murals is Huerfano County’s first annual mural program.
On Memorial Day Weekend 2021, six talented artists and teams came to Walsenburg to paint the alley between 5th and 6th street. This mural program was designed to promote public interest in art, develop community pride, and enhance the visitor experience around Walsenburg for years to come.
Local artist, Yul Jorgensen, the creator behind FAROUT Murals, aims to bring communities together by creating low-cost, high-impact art programs that directly put the money back into the local businesses, and in the hands of artists.
Next year they will host 12-24 artists to make large-scale murals, with an interactive art piece for the local community to work on over the week, art workshops for all ages, plus multiple alley and park cleanups. Keep your calendars cleared for Memorial Day weekend 2022 for more events and activities with FAROUT Murals.
La Veta Arts District
La Veta is nestled between the small mountain village of Cuchara and the historic mining town of Walsenburg on the Highway of Legends. What was once a popular trading post with the Francisco Fort along the Santa Fe Trail, La Veta is now a small town with a thriving art scene.
Home to several art galleries, including the SPACe (Spanish Peaks Arts Council) Gallery, and the La Veta School for the Arts, La Veta is making a name for itself in the Colorado art community.
The La Veta Arts District has been working diligently over the years for the Colorado Creative District Designation. They would stand with others like Salida, Paonia, and Denver’s Santa Fe Art District – putting them on the map as an important component in Colorado’s art scene.
Spanish Peaks Arts Council (SPACe Gallery)
At the heart of it all, the Spanish Peaks Arts Council, originally founded in 1975 by 10 local women artists, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to art for the community through classes, exhibits, and an annual Art in the Park event. The idea of “Art in the Park” eventually grew into the “Gallery in the Park,” thus known as the SPACe Gallery.
Today the gallery is the hub of the art scene in La Veta. In support of local artists, the gallery hosts regular shows, such as their most popular the Western Rendezvous – a 15-year-old exhibition highlighting the culture of the West, Native Americans, the Spanish, cowboys, and ranchers. Other popular shows include the Clay, Glass, and Fiber Show and the photography exhibit in August.
Their biggest event and fundraiser every year is the Art in the Park. Held around the 4th of July, the art fair features handmade crafts, jewelry, apparel, photography, ceramics, glass, paintings, and more. It is held in the park next to the SPACe Gallery, near the train depot visitor center. Admission is free.
Beyond their art shows, the council offers lectures, workshops, and opening receptions as an educational component for those interested in learning more.
In addition to the SPACe Gallery, there are other galleries in La Veta that are worth a stop including the Gallery on Main, Shalawalla Gallery – selling batik art, and the Silver Shoe Gallery, which is both a gallery and gift shop.
La Veta School for the Arts
One of the best ways to experience the arts in the region is by immersing yourself in it through a class at the La Veta School for the Arts. Run by Peggy Zehring, an avid follower of the abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, the school has been a home for budding artists all across the country.
In her classes, she places high emphasis on personal expression, creativity, and originality. The workshops include topics such as sand painting, kinetic sculpture, and painting workshops. Some last just a few days while others can run as long as 11 days. They are limited to 10 students each, and classes fill up fast.
Beyond the studio and through the school’s Teenage Public Works Project, visitors to the area will find various murals throughout town created and painted by those in the project. The program has created two public park benches, 16 banners for the main street, four murals, and more.
La Veta Mercantile
Bringing music to the art scene in La Veta, the La Veta Mercantile hosts a variety of concerts from local singers and bands. Visitors can also enjoy an assortment of wine, beer, and other refreshments that are available at the bar inside the store. Shop the gallery and gift shop before the concert to show your support for local artists.
To find out more about how you can experience the arts in the Spanish Peaks Region, visit the Spanish Peaks Arts Council website.