Painting from the precipice
December 19, 2003
Charmayne Thevenet Bernhardt’s philosophy is frank and exclamatory: If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.
“I always feel like I’m on the edge,” said the artist, who paints under her maiden name, Thevenet. “Sometimes I’m right on the edge of an idea or of discovering something. Sometimes you feel like the edge is overwhelming but it’s not always a bad thing.”
Bernhardt’s portfolio is far-reaching and diverse. In addition to the watercolors, collages and oil paintings, she shows periodically in the library ” last year she sold all but four paintings from her show ” she’s illustrated books, coffee labels, signs and more.
“I’m a little out there sometimes, but I’m an artist ” I don’t have to make sense,” she said. “I do all kinds of nutty things. Like I might hear a word, and think, ‘Gosh, I’d like to paint what those words say to me.’ And I do.”
Her work is seen by the thousands who ride Centennial Lift at Beaver Creek, as she’s the artist behind the “Whose Tracks Are These?” signs. She’s also responsible for the 40 to 50 labels for Vail Mountain Coffee Roasters.
“Now that’s a fun bunch of people,” she said.
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She acquired a national reputation with the help of Jay Leno, who dedicated a segment of his show to a book she illustrated.
“Somebody had asked me to do a medical book,” she said. “After I agreed to do it and they told me what it was.”
Naturally, it’s one of Vail’s most famous books ” “Sexual Positions for the Knee Patient.”
“Don’t anybody tell my parents,” she exclaimed. “I kept telling myself it was OK, it’s just figure drawings. They just happen to be copulating.”
During the show, Leno’s featured guest of the evening and Bernhardt’s favorite actor, Clint Eastwood, kept picking up the book, saying, “I think I have a knee injury.”
Having her name bandied about on national television is a bit much for the artist who prefers not to speak much about herself. Most of the work she’s received has been from people seeking her out, instead of the other way around. She’s also an employee at Colorado Mountain Medical, and has been there for many years.
“When you major in the starving arts, you need a job to pay the bills,” she quipped.
The artist was a scholarship student at the duCret School of Art, but her interest in the arts was kindled as a child in a high chair. She was always drawing, even before she can remember. It’s to honor her parents ” especially her mother, who cleaned crayon off the walls continually ” that she paints under her maiden name, Thevenet.
Bernhardt grew up on the East Coast, in New Jersey, and is able to sum it up in a sentence: “Funny people, great food.” She moved to Vail in 1976, and has never felt compelled to leave.
“I just love it,” she said. “There’s no humidity. My hair doesn’t frizz here. I can’t have a good hair minute in New Jersey. And I love being in these mountains.”
She also loves the seasons of the Rockies, as their constant changes fuel new perspectives. Even the snow ” or perhaps especially the snow ” gives her something new and exciting. She’s always got a sketchbook on hand, or in the trunk, and she likes to paint plein air, though she doesn’t always paint an exact representation of the scene. A realistic painter, she doesn’t mind delving into her head for ideas.
“Of course that’s probably scarier,” she said. “As long as my mind stays intact I’ll always have something to draw from.”