Portrait sketch of a Carpenter | VailDaily.com

Portrait sketch of a Carpenter

Joseph T. O'Connor
AE Ken Carpenter BH 3-1 Vail Daily/ Bret Hartman Caricature Artist Ken Carpenter makes a drawing of seven-year-old Danielle Pollard from Yorba Linda, California Monday at the Post Montagne Lodge in Beaver Creek.

A ski day is all about entertainment. From the moment you wake up until the last run is skied, your wish is to be entertained. And then the official entertainment begins.

But for mothers and fathers who don’t want their kids hacking up cigar smoke-filled lungs and draining the last of the “empties” they find in a loud and crowded apres ski bar, what alternatives are there?

There are television and board games at home – but television is for suckers and the chances of the little ones being exhausted by picking up a “Community Chest” card are slim to nil.

Enter Ken Carpenter and his complimentary caricature drawing at various spots around the valley. I met him at Beaver Creek’s Park Hyatt.

When I walk into the busy lobby, Carpenter is set up to my right and a group of eight children and a handful of adults are surrounding his small easel. They are having a great time and Carpenter has just begun a caricature of one of the kids.

“And what’s your name?” he asks the girl sitting across from him, as his left hand moves across the canvas in articulate strokes.

“Katie,” the girl replies.

“Did you ski today, Katie?” Carpenter asks.


The conversation and the drawing continue as the other kids become curious about the man behind the easel.

“Is this your treasure chest?” asks a girl who is patting Carpenter’s box in which his supplies are kept.

“Are you an artist?” a young boy inquires.

“Sometimes,” Carpenter says, smiling as he finishes the caricature. It took him under three minutes to complete the drawing.

“Sometimes” is a pretty accurate description, I come to discover about the upstate New York native. He also plays the banjo, cello and djembe drum for his band 3 Left Feet.

“I came here in ’84 from Boulder,” the entertainer says. “I was an artist on the Pearl Street Mall doing portraits, but I wanted a change and ended up here (in Vail).”

The “change” has lasted 20 years and both Carpenter’s art and music have come a long way.

“Up until nine years ago, (the caricatures were) part-time,” Carpenter says. “Now Beaver Creek sponsors me and it’s a full-time gig.”

During the winter months, Carpenter performs his apres ski entertainment in the Hyatt, Charter, St. James and Poste Montagne in Beaver Creek and in the summer he sets up his easel on the plaza near the ice rink in Beaver Creek as part of Strolling Entertainment.

Are caricatures only for children?

“I do draw a lot of kids,” says Carpenter. “But I draw plenty of adults too. The oldest person I’ve ever drawn was a 6-foot-7-inch tall 88-year-old man from Kansas. It was a lot of fun. There were 88 years of life in his face.”

Carpenter, who averages between 1,100 and 1,200 sketches per season, loves what he does.

“It’s great seeing people grow and change,” he says. “I have five-year and ten-year clubs (of people) who come in every year to get (caricature) updates of themselves and their children.”

And then Carpenter has his music, about which he is just as passionate. I decide I have to check it out – after all, it’s Friday, it’s a ski day, and I like to be entertained.

At around 9 p.m., I arrive at The Chophouse in Beaver Creek to take in some of 3 Left Feet’s Celtic/bluegrass tunes. I pass a lobster tank and the dining room to my left and walk down a few stairs to the “shotgun” bar area, as Carpenter calls it, because of its narrow layout.

The bar’s dark oak composition, the cigar room and the bartender’s resemblance to Elvis Costello remind me of a British pub, as I pull a chair up to one of the high-top tables.

3 Left Feet, formerly WherzFloyd?, are set up at the end of the shotgun barrel and Carpenter is picking

Carpenter, page B8

his banjo with the same speed and accuracy that he uses to produce his caricatures. Flanking him are Charles Porter on the guitar and Suzanne Porter on the violin.

As they finish their song, a man on his way to the cigar room stops to request “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by the Charlie Daniel’s Band.

“We don’t really know that one,” says Carpenter.

“Well, we kinda do,” Charles says, scratching his head and adjusting his glasses.

Suzanne starts, bowing the fast main fiddle riff, which, as I later discover, originally came from a song by Vasser Clements called “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.” Charles and Carpenter follow suit and shortly the trio is producing some of the most amazing music I have ever heard. They take turns soloing as only a band that has played together for decades can. Yet they haven’t played together for that long.

“Charlie and I have been playing together for the past five years,” Carpenter says as I sit with the trio after their set. “And Suzanne has been with us for about a year and a half.”

The man comes out of the cigar room to congratulate the musicians and requests that the band play one more song. 3 Left Feet plays a beautiful rendition of “Another Day to Live and Die,” by Tim O’Brien, who recently played during Vail’s Street Beat.

As I drive back to Vail from Beaver Creek, I ponder the day of skiing that I have had and smile, knowing that skiing is only half of the day’s entertainment.

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