Vail’s Green Lantern
As Beaver Creek prepares for the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races to hit the mountain Friday through Sunday, Dec. 1-3, local Natron Smith is thinking back fondly to the atmosphere that produced his budding art career.
Smith is a lifelong ski racer, you may remember him from Lindsey Vonn’s EpicMix Racing program where he won the men’s division in its first year of operation.
He’s still attacking gates to this day after falling in love with the sport in high school.
That was more than 40 years ago. At the time, those around Smith also noticed he had a talent for art. A piece he made for art class won him first prize in a local contest when he was 14, and ended up selling for $600. Smith was more focused on ski racing at the time and getting into a college where he could race, and didn’t take art any further. He ended up getting into the University of Wisconsin where he raced on the ski team and following that path out to Colorado, where he has worked on and off in the industry for decades.
A few years ago, Smith decided to pick up the pencil once again.
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Using his affinity for ski racing as an inspiration, he created pieces focused on ski racers such as Hermann Maier, Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin.
“To get started, all I used were flair pens, ink pens and sharpies, because that’s what I had in front of me,” Smith said.
He took a few of his pieces up to the World Championships venue in Beaver Creek to see what ski racing fans thought of his work.
He ended up selling dozens of prints out of his backpack.
“That’s what made me realize I could chase this dream,” Smith said. “It was validation, and encouragement to go forward.”
‘RIDING THAT WAVE’
Smith joined the Vail Valley Art Guild, and ski-joring athlete Shawn Gerber commissioned a piece from Smith to capture his sport.
“I approached that one with abstract realism,” Smith said. “I tried to make the him and his horse look as real as it could be, and then everything behind it floats into the abstract.”
Traveling through Arizona and Navajo Nation, Smith found a whole new level of motivation.
“I was looking at Indian cave drawings and petroglyphs, listening to the chanting and people talking in Navajo on the radio, and I went into a couple of galleries,” Smith said. “Indian people are so nice, so chill. I don’t know what it is but that energy is really inspiring.”
Smith saw a print from David Dawangyumptewa in Tuba City that he really identified with.
“I reached out to him on Facebook and became friends with him,” Smith said. “He motivates me to do my own interpretation of his style.”
He also finds motivation from California artist John Yato, and Fritz Scholder of Santa Fe.
“Vail has a growing art culture and community, and I’m kind of riding that wave,” he said. “But sometimes I feel like I might fit in better in an area with a larger population. My dream would be to get my art in galleries in a bigger city like Denver.”
On a Navajo reservation near Kayenta, a woman gave Smith a ring from which he derives his artistic energy.
“As soon as I got this ring I started doing Kachinas,” Smith said. “I kind of had the figures laid out as a sketch, and then all of a sudden it just started flowing out of me. In the middle of the night, I was working on one, and I didn’t even have to think about what I was going to do next, it felt like there was somebody pushing my arm.”
Currently you can find Smith’s work at Montana’s Smokehouse, Loaded Joe’s, the Avon Recreation Center, Colorado Mountain College, the Vail Valley Art Guild and the lobby of the Vail Daily.