Telluride Art Walk: A Gallery Guide
Tonight, low-hanging clouds ring the mountains that frame the historic town of Telluride. Once home to a frenzy of mining activity in the late 19th century, Telluride is now a mountain adventurer’s paradise and a cultural hub full of various rotating festivals and an impressive fine art scene. This evening, as they do on the first Thursday of each month, Telluride’s galleries open their doors to welcome visitors with trays of cookies and a wealth of stories.
My first stop is the Turquoise Door Gallery, housed in an old building with creaky wooden floorboards. Robert and Valerie Franzese, a local artist couple who have run the gallery for two decades, choose to feature established and emerging artists alike. At the moment, Shelby Keefe’s nuanced light work in her impressionistic renderings of townscapes join the quirky still lifes of Ed Mckay, featuring ravens. In my eyes, the most impressive works on display are those of Earl Bliss, who spearheaded the impressionist movement within the Native American artist community in the 70s. In one particular painting, dark silhouettes of men on horseback fade into fiery columns of color, evoking a sense of mystery I can’t quite put my finger on. When Valerie Franzese mentions that the artist lived “an excessive life,” I wonder if his use of dark shapes and bright colors points to something that was brewing within.
Much of Telluride’s art scene revolves around The Ah Haa School, where curious locals and established artists gather for classes in ceramics, jewelry making, and more. Masked is the name of the show, the first in the art school’s new building, which features work from ten local artists. This exhibit is an attempt to reappropriate masks for artistic purposes. While this attempt takes the form of the clay masks of Goedele Vanhille and the ‘prayer mask flags’ of Kathy Greens, the most thought-provoking installation comes from San Miguel County poet laureate Daiva Chesonis. Her “Masku” creation features PPE covered in haunting haikus such as this one: “It’s a sweet planet/A nice place to hang your mask/When the day is done.”
This gallery has been around for over 30 years, and features photography, painting and sculpture along with collections of handmade jewelry. The gallery’s curator and owner, Ashley Hayward, tends to juxtapose the works of new and old artists, such as in the most recent exhibit of photographs from Dan Budnik and Sheila Pree Bright. Both photographers use black-and-white images to depict moments in the ongoing fight for social justice. Budnik’s work features poignant scenes from the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, such as Harry Belafonte giving a speech outside the Lincoln Memorial in 1958, while Pree Bright’s photographs capture moments from protests following the death of Breonna Taylor in 2020. While each artist’s work on its own makes a powerful statement, together they reinforce the enduring themes of painful inequality and determination to incite change. Seeing the photos of each artist in combination with the other is a jarring reminder of the way pain morphs throughout the passing of time, especially when little progress is made.
This gallery is a relatively new venture, opened by Joanie Schwarz and Rebecca McFarland just months ago. McFarland describes Schwarz’s work as “memories and the past meeting a whole dream world.” Schwarz overlays antique photographs and embroiders inspirational sayings on upcycled clothing. Her work is all about giving new life to the old and used, from antique clothing and photos to the renovated gallery space itself.
This gallery serves as a home base for the Telluride Arts District, and currently features the haunting paintings of Nancy Jean Guerrero. This is the latest installment of the gallery’s The Body Electric series, which prompts viewers to reflect on humanity. Guerrero’s work combines the ideas of repulsion, beauty, solitude, and obsession through grotesque, blood-splattered images of neglected, torn up dolls or aliens with exposed brains.
As the clouds draw closer and the temperature plummets, I wrap up my art walk through Telluride. I find myself impressed by the variety of exhibits in this small town, whether in the selected galleries mentioned above or the other locations in which art is displayed. Themes of broken humanity in some galleries are countered by expressions of hope in others, and the work of local emerging artists joins that of world-renowned sculptors, photographers, and painters. Here, in the San Juan mountains, at 8,750 feet, the creative spirit certainly triumphs.