Edwards cowboy leaves knives, watercolors behind | VailDaily.com

Edwards cowboy leaves knives, watercolors behind

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailyCarol Nitz holds a photo of longtime Edwards resident and friend Buddy Calhoun, a rancher and artist who died in early December.

EDWARDS, Colorado ” When Carol Nitz looks out the window of her home, the old, wooden bunkhouse across the ranch yard that served as Bert “Buddy” Calhoun’s art studio is dark.

It’s strange to see the now vacant building, where Calhoun spent many late nights painting landscapes and carving ornate knife handles said Nitz, a longtime friend who lives on the Calhoun ranch.

Calhoun died at the age of 61 earlier this month and left behind a studio full of landscape paintings, hand-fashioned leather work and knives. His children didn’t even know some of the pieces existed.

He also left a legacy of having loved the “cowboy life” and having tried to pass that on to others. His real pride were his knives, his friends and family said.

He first thought of making knives after seeing artistic knives at a show, said Kurt Keltner, a longtime friend.

He designed, carved and decorated more than 800 unique hunting and fishing knives, most of which he sold. The handles were usually made of bear, coyote and bobcat bones that Calhoun would buy or that friends would bring to him, said Keltner

The most unique handle-material someone brought him was probably a petrified walrus penis, said his daughter, Darcee Biekert, and he made an elaborate knife handle out of that, too.

Calhoun also experimented with different mediums in his art, from ceramics to black-and-white sketches, but most of his paintings were watercolors of Vail-area landscapes.

“His pictures were of the area we lived in,” said Calhoun’s daughter, Danielle Skilton. “He loved the outdoors, and he could go on a hike, and remember the picture in his head, and come back and paint it.”

His favorite subject was Mount of the Holy Cross, a scene he became known for in the valley and was asked to paint over and over again by friends and customers.

“He must have painted it hundred of times, and it just always got better. I think he loved painting it,” said Biekert.

Calhoun took several art classes at Colorado Mountain College, but mostly followed his own techniques.

“He definitely had his own style,” said Joan Norris, who was an instructor at the college. “He didn’t listen to anything I said, though. He was a cowboy, and you know how they are.”

True cowboys are hard to come by these days, but Calhoun was one of them, friends and family said.

Calhoun loved the land he ranched, as well as the history behind it. He even dreamed of turning the ranch, which was homesteaded in 1889 by his mother’s family, into a museum, Nitz said.

He loved collecting old cowboy photographs, and antique chaps and spurs, she said.

The ranch, located on Lake Creek Road in Edwards, had cattle at one point, then became a bed-and-breakfast, and now boards horses.

“He loved ranching, the peacefulness of it. He just loved the lifestyle, and it inspired all of his artwork,” Biekert said.

Those who knew Calhoun described him as laid-back, charismatic, generous and humorous with a gift for storytelling, his daughters said.

Calhoun’s gregarious personality translated well on the dance floor ” he loved dancing western swing and was a regular at 4Eagle Ranch and Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall, an Avon bar where Finnegan’s Wake now stands.

“I taught him how to dance in his art studio. He got really into it. I took me awhile to get him out on the dance floor, but once he got out there, he made friends fast,” Nitz said.

Calhoun also tried to pass his interests on to others. He often showed visitors and students around his ranch, helped teach art classes and even helped Nitz teach some of her dance classes.

He especially loved teaching children, Nitz said. Local art students would come paint on his ranch, and younger children would come see his potbelly pigs, horses and trout pond.

Calhoun was also a guest teacher at middle and high school art classes.

“Helping kids was always his talent. He could make you feel good no matter what you did, and he took pride in that. Kids’ eyes would just sparkle when he came into the room,” Skilton said.

He helped form a women’s 4-H horse club, the Horse Rangers, letting them use his ranch and boarding their horses.

“He had a lot of impact on the community,” said Bill Downs, a longtime friend and fellow artist. “He always encouraged young people to make right choices, do artwork and work with their hands.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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