Art in residence
Art says a lot about a person – and a community.
Over the past several years, several artists have relocated to Eagle. Some of the reasons are personal, some are economic, but the influx provides a wonderful opportunity for local communities to benefit from having art, and artists, in residence.
In and around Eagle, potters, glass artists, painters, photographers and sculptors practice their passions in the hopes of carving a niche and earning a living.
Painter Mark Lemon specializes in landscapes, figures and still lifes. Lemon currently shares an Eagle studio, Wildridge Studios, with fellow painter and ceramics artist Jane Parker, potter Kate Tennant and glass artist April Nottingham.
“Art is about emotions, feeling and using the “other’ side of the brain,” said Lemon, whose work is on display at the Eagle Public Library.
But art isn’t all paint and canvas. Sometimes it’s iron and fire.
Robert Adam and Andrew Montcalm specialize in iron and metal work, including lighting, gates, tables and custom designs.
Adam came to his profession eight years ago, after a career as vice president of construction for The Chateau in Beaver Creek. He began his second career when he needed iron gates for his home. Borrowing and buying the needed equipment, he made his own wrought-iron gates, and later created the chandeliers for his home. Friends convinced him he should create ironworks for a living. Today, his Ivanhoe Ironworks portfolio consists of lighting, wall and interior fixtures, as well as gates, railings and sacred items for churches.
“What I do is old-world iron work,” Adam said. “At the end of the day, you can feel good that you made something wonderful.”
Montcalm owns IronImages, and along with partners, Keith Eaton and Sarah Punzenberger, has been producing functional and artistic metal work for the past four years. Like Adam, he also works almost exclusively with interior designers, architects and builders of fine homes.
“We don’t cast anything. Everything is hand made,” said Montcalm, showing off a leaping sculpted iron stag that has taken him two years to complete.
Art lovers in Eagle also can find stained, etched or carved glass, watercolors, fine woodwork, photography, lighting and pottery.
“There is a lot of exchange of ideas locally between local artists,” said Mike Crabtree, owner of the Crabtree Gallery, of the growing Eagle art community.
Making a living?
Can an artist make a living in a valley known for its high cost of living?
Jacklyn and Joe Clay run a studio out their home in Upper Kaibab. The husband-wife team specializes in stained, etched and carved glass and stone.
“You have to find a niche and work very hard to be successful at it,” said Jacklyn, who considers herself lucky to have made a living for the past decade as an artist. “It’s not possible to do this in an 8 to 5, 40 hour a week format. You’re not going to make it.”
Bob Callicrate added, “It depends on what your definition of making a living is.”
Callicrate moved from Minturn a few years ago because of the lower cost of living and the closer-knit downvalley community. He specializes in the design and creation of clay, metal, and ceramic lighting fixtures and vases.
“Living expenses and overhead is always an issue and space is integral to living in this valley. The cost of studio space is the biggest thing that holds artists back,” said Callicrate, who estimated a savings of more than $48,000 since moving to Eagle.
“Survival depends on the medium you’re in,” added Montcalm, who advises other aspiring artists to “keep their day jobs” until they have made a name for themselves.
“The fact is most artists are not making a living as artists,” said Gypsum watercolor painter Annie Gibbons.
“All of us have real jobs on the side to support the art,” said Nottingham of herself and her studio partners. Nottingham makes glass beads, bowls and pots. “It’s really a struggle to make it as an artist. Local artists don’t have many outlets to market their wares.”
“I think it is possible to make a living at it in this valley,” added Lemon, who noted wryly that he hasn’t done that yet. However, he added, “The ultimate goal is not necessarily to please the public. To use the word “art’ and “marketing’ together is an oxymoron.”
To market, to market
Commercially successful artists agree that business savvy, diversity and marketing are the keys to success.
“My advice is to have general knowledge of business accounting and practices including how to write a contract. It is also important to know how to handle customers. Referral is of utmost importance,” said Jacklyn Clay. She and her husband Joe have diversified in order to succeed.
In addition to the large commissioned pieces the Clays do, Joe does watercolors and Jacklyn teaches stained glass classes at Colorado Mountain College. She also designs and produces stained glassware and boxes, sells smaller pieces to local shops, and is a retail supplier of glass supplies, serving other local glass artists.
“You have to market yourself. There are many good Vail magazines and other marketing tools available here,” said Clay.
Crabtree also diversified. In addition to his special event, portraits and aerial work, he added a print shop, private lessons and workshops, real estate, commercial, stock, and advertising photography to the mix.
“I run the gamut in order to survive. Photography overhead is pretty expensive,” he said.
“I pursued this not as an artist but as business,” said Callicrate, who supplements his income by rewiring antique and modern lighting and working on collaborative pieces with other artists. “What is a true artist? The idea of profitability doesn’t enter into the equation in pure art. I use the term “artist’ very loosely in reference to me.”
The drive for marketing and saleability often conflicts with the desire to pursue art for the sake of creativity.
“Commercialism has a lot to do with success and pleasing wealthy clients in their homes. That’s not what my gift is. I’m not very good at marketing,” said Gibbons. “For marketing, saleable artists need two to three paintings a week to become polished.” Gibbons paints six paintings a year and often sells only one or two.
“I will usually choose the art over the marketing. I would say I am trying to keep my vision in mind by becoming the best painter I can be. I realize I need to work on the “marketing’ aspect,” added Lemon.
As much as they tout the need to market themselves, few local artists advertise, have their own Web sites or even their own business cards, relying instead on repeat clientele and word of mouth.
Lack of public support
While marketing is tough, many local artists wish their adopted community was more receptive to their work.
Since the Castle Peak Arts Council disbanded in the late 1980s because of the lack of public support, the local art community has been left to its own devices.
“The arts council used to be very active, but we had very little response,” said Gibbons, who was the president of the council from 1984 to 1987. “Downvalley cultural development has not been a priority.”
Gibbons remembers a time when Colorado Mountain College was more active in promoting local artists, running workshops and playing host to events to give local artists a venue to show and sell work.
“CMC used to be an art school and was really art friendly. You don’t see anything like that any more,” said Nottingham, who shows her work at craft fairs, local art shows like the Minturn Market, and online.
Callicrate, who sells his work mostly through magazine advertising and word of mouth, added, “I think downvalley has the elements to be attractive to artists who are trying to make it, but the artists need to support themselves in order to create a draw for art lovers, buyers and creators.”
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.