Vail homeowner holds show in Denver |

Vail homeowner holds show in Denver

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado ” To Sandra Wittow, the rose is a powerful symbol. Not only do roses appear in myths and fairy tales, they are closely tied to Christianity, Wittow said.

On a more personal level, Rose was Wittow’s grandmother’s name, and the middle name of her son.

That’s why it made sense to Wittow to name an exhibit of her work “The Rose and the Briar.” The collection ” a retrospective of Wittow’s life work ” will be on display at the Singer Gallery in Denver through Jan. 11.

“The idea is that the rose is a beautiful image,” said Wittow, who is in her 70s. “But they’re also thorns along with it. So although there is beauty on the surface, there is depth in the paintings.”

That concept applies to Wittow’s body of work. An Englewood resident who owns a home in Vail, the artist experienced early success. In 1959, when Wittow was just three years out of college, the Denver Art Museum bought one of her paintings. She was selling pieces at a brisk pace.

When tragedy touched Wittow’s life, an extra layer of depth crept into her work. Wittow’s 16-year-old son succumbed to cancer in1980, marking a turning point in her life and career.

“I think that time of loss and tragedy really kind of touched my art to the point where, after that, my paintings had so much in the way of feelings that they were very different,” Wittow said. “They were much more important and meaningful than just technically good paintings, if that makes sense,” she said.

To cope with her son’s death, Wittow paid tribute to his life with a painting of a dozen roses. The painting, titled “In Memorium,” is on public display for the first time in Denver.

“It really kept me from going crazy for about a year and a half while I worked on it,” Wittow said. “I think my work totally changed after that. My paintings have a lot of depth ever since then.”

That first rose painting blossomed into a collection of metaphoric roses. Vail art collector Merv Lapin, 68, owns four of Wittow’s rose paintings.

“They’re strong feelings that she conveys in her artwork, and when you know the history or you know the story behind the pictures, it just adds a strong meaning to me,” he said.

In 1984, Wittow became the first woman to hold a single-artist exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. Her latest show depicts her evolution as an artist.

Wittow has been fascinated by many things throughout her career. For nine years, she chronicled the evolution of the portrait. In another collection, titled “Innocents Lost,” Wittow paints the emotions associated with innocent people who have been lost, like kamikaze pilots and Anne Frank, and the children of the last emperor of Russia. The collection is on display for the first time in Denver.

From reinterpreting fairy tales in her “Disenchantment” series to telling Jackie Onassis’ story through hats, Wittow gravitates toward narrative painting.

Simon Zalkind, director of the Singer Gallery, said Wittow incorporates elements of personal memento, pop culture and myth in her work.

“I’ve been paying attention to her going on 25 years now, and I’ve always admired the way that she managed to achieve a kind of genuine, emotional resonance that always felt both very personal and universal,” he said.

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

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