The Renaissance Man
This is a story about Jim Lamont; not Lamont the lobbyist, the city planner, the experimental architect, or the artist. Rather, it’s a story about all of those people, because, as Lamont puts it, there is no distinguishing between the many facets of his personality. It’s a personality that is on display now through March 15 at the Vail Public Library.Sitting in his solarium – a room he designed in order to bring a tropical Mexican environment to snowy Eagle County – Vail’s first city planner pauses for a moment when asked how he would characterize his role as homeowner lobbyist in the often tumultuous circle of Vail town politics."Instead of a lobbyist, it’s much more stylish to be known as a raconteur," Lamont says with a laugh. "They call me a lobbyist, but I don’t think of myself like that. I am first and foremost a city planner."And in Lamont’s role as a city planner, he sees all things possible:photography, experimental architecture and writing. He’s a sort ofrenaissance man splitting his time between representing the concerns of the Vail Village Homeowners Association to the Vail Town Council, experimenting with green architecture at his office in Red Cliff and what he describes as monumental photography.On a recent trip to Italy with his wife, well-known local oil painter Joan Norris, Lamont was armed with a six-by-seven Pentax camera. His goal was to capture the monumental architecture of Italy on film and bring it home to show alongside Norris’ oil paintings inspired by the same trip. It’s a show at the Vail Library that will offer a little more insight into the mind of a man some have labeled as a fly in the ointment of Vail’s progress; yet others recognize as a man who champions Vail’s desire to maintain and build upon its world-class status.It’s one aspect of Lamont’s life, he says, that is inseparable from the rest of interests. Lamont says all of his interests work in concert with one another, including his role as fine-art photographer."My art is an extension of my professional interest," he says. "There is no distinction between the two. Because I am totally possessed by building and architecture and planning how people act in their surroundings. And photography is a means of that expression."So, with camera in tow, Lamont is recording a sort of visual testimony to humanity’s obsession with structure: concrete and abstract. And he has taken his passions seriously since the days of his boyhood in Wyoming, where he would sit and design buildings and manipulate space on paper. His childhood pastime was a foreshadowing of Lamont’s future.Back in 1969, the now 57-year old Lamont was a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver. While he was studying urban-regional planning and community development, he discovered Vail in its infancy. He liked what he saw and in 1972 became the town’s first city planner with one goal in mind: to help build and maintain a "world-class environment" in the Town of Vail. It’s the same goal that motivates him today."That’s what I came here for because that’s where Vail was headed," he says. "And I think it still is, too."So he plugs away, studying every proposal and every plan laid before Vail’s elected body, with the eye of a skeptic and the heart of an artist. The way the man describes his love for Vail, it’s hard to believe he has time for anything other than playing a role in the town’s future. But he does.Back in the Red Cliff solarium, Lamont enjoys a break in the recent storm fronts as the sun radiates through the translucent roof that covers a room filled with tropical vegetation. The room itself sits in the middle of one large structure that, by his own admission, Lamont may never finish.This project is a result of his love for what he terms experimentalarchitecture. After purchasing a Red Cliff lot with two, single-wide house trailers, he began to envision and design a personal sanctuary overlooking the old mining town. Piece by piece, Lamont enclosed the two trailers to create his office and part-time living space. As the project has progressed, the trailer’s have disappeared, replaced by what he describes as "green-building technology that has minimal impact on the landscape.""Everything is a work in progress," he says of all his endeavors.And when he’s not working on photography, city planning or experimental architecture, he’s building Norris a new studio. Because not only is Norris his mate, she is, he says, his inspiration for his art."When she sees beauty, I pay attention," says Lamont.Lamont describes it like this: he sees with an intellectual eye, and Norris sees with an intuitive eye. So, when breaking out into the world on one their artistic expeditions like their recent Italian trip, Lamont says he can more fully appreciate his surroundings by paying attention to Norris. But Norris says Lamont is just being modest."It’s him that has the eye," she says. "He has a wonderful eye. He sees these simple, monolithic images and I can’t see like that. I couldn’t do a painting from his photographs, ever."So Norris paints with her own eye, and it’s that eye that accompanies Lamont’s photographs in the exhibition at the Vail Library. Like past shows the couple exhibited work inspired from a trip to Peru last year the walls and tables will be lined with photography and painting.Like Norris, Lamont offers his photographs for sale. However, he says the photographs are meant to be sold as a group, not individually. As a result, Lamont says he never expects to sell his work. But selling his work doesn’t matter, he says. His goal is to create for the sake of creating, regardless of whether he is working as a planner, architect, artist or raconteur.A reception for the show, which runs through March 15, will be heldon Sunday, March 9, from 3 to 7 p.m. in the Vail Library’s community room.