Vail Symposium program on ‘Art & Activism’ takes place Friday in Cordillera
“A little rebellion is a good thing. As necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”This quote from Thomas Jefferson is printed on a poster for the fifth Vail Symposium, created by artist and activist Thomas Benton. Of the 18 posters Benton created for the Symposium in the organization’s early years, that one is Symposium founding father Terry Minger’s favorite. From the beginning of his career, Benton was especially drawn to the impact of symbols and text together, and he spent his career creating posters for political campaigns and for numerous causes such as the Vail Symposium, a project that was born out of good friendship and a mutual passion for cause and community. Benton and Minger worked together on the Vail Symposium posters to choose the perfect words to accompany the complex, layered images of bold colors and symbols that adorned Benton’s prints. “For the first 10 years or so, Tom and I selected the quotes around that year’s program so most of the posters had a slight edge, which helped put the Symposium on the map,” Minger said. “The posters were eagerly collected on both coasts.”Benton even used Minger’s own words on the poster for the 10th Vail Symposium, which reads; “The future is not an overarching leap into the distance, but a beginning in the present.” According to Minger, who served as one of Vail’s first town managers, he and Benton met and became friends while Benton was the Chairman of the Aspen Planning Commission. At that time both Aspen and Vail were working to develop plans that would shape and define each of the communities beyond the ski resorts. In 1971, Minger and Mayor John Dobson founded the Vail Symposium as a forum to create and guide a vision for the future of Vail.”When the Vail Symposium was launched, John Dobson and I thought we needed to add the idea of visual art, as well as a yearly theme, to the Symposium,” Minger said. “Tom agreed to create a poster each year based around the theme that John and I selected. The Vail poster caught on quickly and became highly valued by Symposium speakers and attendees alike.”These posters are still highly sought-after by friends of the Vail Symposium today, and still represent and capture the spirit of the organization, decorating both the organization’s office walls and the pages of each season’s brochure. Minger, along with Daniel Joseph Watkins, author of “Thomas W. Benton: Artist|Activist,” will speak Friday about the works and life, the art and the activism, of Thomas Benton as part of the Vail Symposium’s Speaking Locally series at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.
“Artist | Activist” chronicles the life and political activism of Thomas Benton with 150 images of his artwork. The book also includes never-before-published images of the Aspen Wallposters, a collaboration of Benton’s art and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s writing that promoted their Freak Power movement; Benton’s collaboration with Thompson gained him national recognition in 1970 when he created the posters for Thompon’s infamous campaign for Pitkin Country Sheriff. The book also includes Benton’s commercial work in Aspen as a signmaker/printmaker, his architectural projects in Colorado, and 10 poems by close friend and lyricist Joe Henry.Watkins created his own political art in college and has a degree in history and international studies from Baker University, and minors in printmaking, art history and business. Watkins was on vacation in Aspen, shortly after Benton’s death in 2007, when he decided to take on the mammoth endeavor of researching and compiling the artist’s work.”I saw some of his work in Aspen and I was particularly inspired by his Vietnam War protest art and thought it had a renewed meaning in today’s world. His artwork spoke to me, it inspired me, and then I realized none of it had ever been cataloged and I thought it was a really worthwhile project,” Watkins said.Watkins found, as he collected his research, that most of what Benton did was inspiring. “He made commitment to the things that mattered the most to him, his community, the environment, and peace – he was a Korean War veteran,” Watkins said. “He gave people a voice through his artwork. Benton was courageous, he spoke out about things he thought were important, his art wasn’t just something to be put on the wall, it was meant to be art in action, it was meant to be marched with.”Tracey Flower is the Development and Marketing Coordinator for the Vail Symposium. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.