When exploring Vail, a day to yourself is like a blank canvas.
But filling it with art will take more than a day.
From the many public art pieces to the private galleries and hotel showcases, a quick tour will have you realizing that Vail is certainly among the great art towns of the West. If you want to go more in-depth, well, then you may never leave.
That’s the story of Rayla Kundolf, who’s from another one of the great art towns of the West, Santa Fe, N.M. Kundolf came to Vail following her husband’s work; now she’s running three art galleries in Vail.
“The world comes to Vail,” Kundolf said.
ART OF ALL KINDS
The variety of art you’ll find in the Vail Valley is immense.
There’s glass art at Pismo Gallery, bronze sculptures at Gib Singleton, ice sculptures on the Gore Creek Promenade, painters with their own galleries such as Carrie Fell, photographers such as Tony Newlin and historical pieces including the 10th Mountain Division trooper near Vail’s Covered Bridge. Also, did you know that all around town you can find examples of sgraffito? (Sgraffito is produced on pottery or ceramic by scratching through a surface of plaster or glazing.) To get to know all of it, Kundolf recommends a few things.
On the private side, she says picking up an issue of Art magazine, free at local newsstands and published by this newspaper, will be a good compass for your journey through the galleries.
“Art magazine is a great tool,” Kundolf said. “It’s a piece of ambassadorship that’s handed out to assist people on galleries, how to do a gallery walk. It has featured artists, a map of how to get around and info about exhibitions.”
On the public side, Kundolf says to check out one of the town of Vail’s Wednesday Art Walks hosted by Molly Eppard.
Eppard was a New York City art dealer for 15 years before taking a job as Vail’s Art in Public Places coordinator in 2009. She now manages the town’s 42-piece public art collection.
Eppard’s tour will be appreciated by those with a broad appreciation of the arts, including history. The tour begins at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum with a mural by Horst Essl and delves into some of Essl’s other works, which contain a rare form of art that Eppard says may soon be lost entirely.
Essl’s contribution to the walls outside the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum is a mural that tells the story of skiing in Colorado. The images depict the early pioneers of skiing, ski machinery and the first ski racing competitors. It spans all the way to the freestyle acrobats of today. Essl and his wife, Jean Richmond, painted the entire mural in just three and a half weeks. Himself, a trained master in the sgraffito and fresco art forms that work with stucco plaster, Essl has also showcased his mastery on businesses in Vail including Pepi’s and Karats. Sgraffito is a very laborious form of working with wet, dyed lime stucco, in which each color is made by scratching through the lime stucco, so it’s not actually painted.
“Sgraffito was an early form of advertising on the exterior of Bavarian buildings,” Eppard said. “It has to be done very quickly and efficiently, and done around the clock. ... It’s a unique trade that’s probably going to be a lost trade, I imagine, because of the expenses and the labor that’s involved, so I feel that it is quite special to have it on some of the buildings in Vail.”
Essl did the sgraffito on Pepi’s logos and lettering, visible from Gore Creek Drive; the Village Center shops and restaurants logo; and the illustration of a girl at play, visible from the corner of Willow Bridge Road and Meadow Drive. Also on Meadow Drive, Essl used fresco, a technique where the freshly laid plaster is delicately painted, on the Karat’s building. Between the fresco on the outside of the building and the working jewelry studio inside Karat’s, where jeweler Dan Telleen designs his one-of-a-kind snake vertebrae necklaces, Karat’s is a must-stop for those interested in the art of Vail.
VAIL’S ART DISTRICT
Outside Karat’s, you’ll find kinetic art adorning the side of Meadow Drive such as the moving wind sculptures of the Vail Village Arts gallery and the Art in Public Places commissioned “Time Trial Wheel 001,” by John Wenner. Inspired by the back wheels of the world’s best bike racers, who blaze through town every year at the Vail stage of the USA Pro Challenge, Wenner designed the nearly 12-foot-tall steel sculpture of a wheel to rotate on its own.
Across the street at Solaris Plaza, the Lawrence Argent pieces called “The Droplet” and “The Light Tree” are can’t-miss, larger-than-life works of art that harness part of the Fibonacci sequence to guide the design of the plaza as a whole.
Further down the road, you’ll find a multitude of galleries clustered together, including the Gib Singleton Gallery, Bogece of Vail, Sabbia Talenti, Vail International Gallery, Claggett/Rey Gallery and the Masters Gallery — home to Meadow Drive’s enormous, life-sized Yukon moose bronze sculpture.
While wandering through the Vail International Gallery, you’ll find yourself just outside The Sebastian, a boutique hotel that prides itself on its art collection.
The Sebastian’s general manager Lance Thompson says the hotel has gladly accepted the responsibility that comes with its location, which Thompson describes as being in the heart of Vail’s “art district,” by showcasing works of art throughout the lodge.
“The Sebastian’s owners have dedicated a tremendous amount of their personal artwork not just to the hotel interior but also the exterior,” Thompson said.
Outside the building, a giant sculpture by the Mexican abstract artist Manuel Felguerez greets pedestrians on Vail Road. Inside, a public-use library is dedicated to Felguerez, who showed up in person to dedicate it in 2009. The library contains numerous paintings and sculptures by Felguerez and provides a cozy atmosphere in which guests can relax and enjoy his famed work. Felguerez is widely recognized as a member of the Generacion de la Ruptura art movement.
“The library is all for public use. People come in just to relax, check email or read a book,” Thompson said.
The Sebastian also prominently features the late Mexican artist Leonora Carrington, who had connections to Picasso and Dali. A dozen or so Carrington pieces are featured throughout the hotel, and the restaurant Leonora is named after her.
Thompson said he doesn’t want The Sebastian’s collection to be reserved exclusively for hotel guests.
“Our doors are open, and we encourage the public to come and tour the artwork on display at the hotel,” he said.