More angst for Vail Valley artists? |

More angst for Vail Valley artists?

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Bill Mounsey 2 DT 1-10-09

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” A few weeks ago, Bill Mounsey II called the Vail Daily to alert editors about a photo opportunity.

Fed up with trying to sell his art in a depressed economy, Mounsey said he planned to throw $15,000 worth of his work into a bonfire.

“I think I just kind of cracked,” the 35-year-old Wolcott artist recalled his week.

Mounsey changed his mind about torching his work, but his frustration highlights the anxiety some artists face as the economy sinks deeper into recession.

Mounsey makes chairs out of used skis in a shop outside his Wolcott trailer.

For the artist, times have been tough lately. As of Wednesday morning, just three of his chairs had sold since February, leaving him to doubt he would sell his usual five to 10 chairs per year.

Adding to his angst, water seeped into his trailer, turning his clothes into blocks of ice and placing a strain on his wallet.

“I decided just today I’m going to go shovel some roofs for a while and make a few bucks,” Mounsey said Wednesday morning.

The term “starving artist” has a whole new meaning lately, thanks to the economic downturn. Nationwide, the art community has been grappling with slow sales, gallery closings and lukewarm auction sales.

“I would say, like anyone else, we’re definitely feeling it,” said Bernadette Boyle, senior marketing manager for the American Craft Council, a nonprofit that promotes contemporary American crafts.

Edwards resident Colleen Everett ran a ceramics business outside Washington, DC for 25 years. Most of her income consisted of architectural commissions, like building tile countertops inside homes.

But when the housing market dried up, so did her business.

“The economic climate was such that my commissions went from three figures to nothing because people are sitting and waiting,” she said.

Everett sold her business a year ago and moved to Edwards, where she has been working as a sales associate at Pismo Fine Art Glass in Vail Village.

“I’m very happy to have a job in my field,” she said.

Other local artists are diversifying their skills to cope with the economic slump. Eagle-Vail portrait artist Andrea Roth-Moore started doing sketches that sell for $150 as a cheaper aleternative to her oil paintings. To make ends meet, Avon photographer Steve Chinn recently picked up a part-time job driving a van for a construction crew.

“It’s slower,” Chinn said of his landscape photography sales. “People are hanging onto their money.”

Four Vail galleries report a slight drop in sales since the economic crisis hit. They include Pismo, Karats, Vail Village Arts and Vail International Gallery. The extent of the slump is unclear because galleries declined to disclose sales figures.

At Pismo, customers have been more conservative about their purchases, gallery director Eva Pobjecka said.

“I cannot say there’s a big drop for us,” she said. “I really just see things being put on hold.”

In response to the economic crisis, Vail galleries have been ramping up their customer service, asking their artists to create smaller, less expensive works, and providing discounts.

“I’ve called my living artists and asked them, If I take less, will they take less?'” said Patrick Cassidy, co-owner of Vail International Gallery in Vail Village. “Everyone is sharing in the discount just to keep people happy.”

While business is a bit slow, some insiders argue Vail’s art market is holding up better than in other parts of the country.

“The East Coast is crashing far more quickly,” Everett said.

In fact, several Beaver Creek galleries reported the same or better sales than last year, despite the slumping economy.

M.B. Snyder, director of The Sportsman’s Gallery and Paderewski Fine Art in Beaver Creek, points to the fact that Beaver Creek is a resort town. Guests who can afford to stay there can typically afford to buy art as well, she said.

“I think we have an advantage up here because we’re in a bubble,” Snyder said. “It’s not like living in a year-round community.”

And unlike in Vail, where the galleries are somewhat spread out, Beaver Creek galleries are clustered in a small area, making visitors more likely to stop in, Snyder said.

So far, no Vail or Beaver Creek galleries have closed as result of the economy.

“I don’t know if we’ll see a lot of galleries closing in Vail and Beaver Creek,” said Jim Cotter, who owns J. Cotter Gallery in Vail and Beaver Creek. “I think you’ll see galleries closing around the country. Like Bob Dylan said, ‘The times, they are a-changin’.’ It’s one of those things: The strong will survive and the ones that weren’t prepared will probably not hold in there.”

Many gallery staffers remain optimistic that any drops in sales are temporary.

“I think everybody will recover,” Pobjecka said. “We will just get back on our feet.”

Mounsey stood in his shop Wednesday, surrounded by the skis he rescued from recycling bins and thrift stores.

“I need to start making a little bit of dough, for me mentally,” he lamented. “Otherwise I need to look at other options.”

A few minutes later, Mounsey received a phone call that changed his life.

“You’re going to buy my ski chairs?” he exclaimed into the receiver. “I’ll do that for a quantity order, absolutely.”

It was official: Coors Brewing Company in Golden wanted to buy 30 chairs ” the biggest sale Mounsey had ever made.

“Man, everything just changed,” Mounsey said after the phone call. “That keeps me busy for months.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

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