Wolcott’s Sherwood Stockwell | VailDaily.com

Wolcott’s Sherwood Stockwell

Ursula Gross
Minturn # 3, 27" x 19.5"

Sherwood Stockwell’s home sits above Wolcott and even above Red Sky Ranch. To architectural illiterates, its style is much more Frank Lloyd Wright than Slifer, Smith and Frampton, and purposely so. Stockwell is a retired architect, having designed some of the early valley ski developments. In fact, his firm was the first group of architects in Beaver Creek. Today, however, he evaluates buildings and main streets with an artist’s eye. Stockwell is one of the valley’s watercolor painters, using the street scenes and picturesque barns and bridges of the valley as his subjects.

From June 16 to June 30, watercolors by Sherwood Stockwell will be exhibited at the Vail Library.


“I told my firm, ‘We need a Colorado office.’ I didn’t tell them I wanted to fish and ski.” Stockwell’s reasons for moving to the valley from California were (and still are) common, but his experiences were not. He designed the earliest Beaver Creek buildings, before the three-volume book of architectural guidelines became a matter of law for all architects working on Beaver Creek’s development.

From his earliest plans for Spruce Saddle Lodge, to his setbacks with the Post Montane, Stockwell witnessed the European-styled village’s earliest days. Not to say, though, that he holds the Beav’ in high regard – he considers Beaver Creek to be one of the biggest architectural flaws in the area. In his opinion, the design regulations prevented any progressive, contemporary thought. But, in saying so, he does add the caveat that it is all a matter of taste.

Stockwell is also critical of Beaver Creek and the valley’s tendency to cater to the tourists that come here to “play act” two weeks a year. The architecture of log cabins is a stereotyped version of Colorado, he says, just like the cowboy boots and hats some of the tourists wear in an effort to be real Coloradans.


Witnessing the use of architecture to sell an image or lifestyle has made Stockwell reflective. In his recently self-published memoir, “When the Lions Come,” he writes, “The lone builder constructing houses for someone he knew became the developer building hundreds of houses for owners he would never know.”

Inspired by the inventors of the early 20th century, Stockwell became an architect motivated to create better spaces and settings. In the foreword of his book, however, he laments that the architect is no longer an inventor or a creator, but instead another cog in the machine made up of bankers, investors, and corporations.


Perhaps it is because of these reflections that Stockwell began painting simple scenes in watercolor. True to his architectural roots, his paintings all feature some sort of structure, whether it be buildings on Minturn’s Main Street or Wolcott’s Yacht Club. He avoids the over-exposed landmarks of the valley, focusing on simplistic landscapes.

At 80 years old, Stockwell is still ambitious: “I like to think that what I do is something that people can enjoy,” he says.

The medium of watercolor is an unusual choice for someone who had to draw buildings perfectly to scale for decades as an architect.

Stockwell’s earlier paintings are “loose” by his own admission, done as a way to distance himself from his linear background. Recently, however, he has begun using an unusual technique that combines the looseness of watercolor with the hard edge of architecture: he positions straight lines of contrasting color through his scenes.

Concerned with the static nature of his paintings, Stockwell was looking for a technique to add vitality and action to the landscapes. Stockwell first drew lines through a painting because, at the time, he did not like it. And it was there he discovered his new technique.

The vertical lines in his paintings today are now done with the intent to highlight major portions of the picture and to keep the viewer’s eye moving up and down. This combination of classic watercolor scenes and the hint of architecture create paintings that are a colorful representation of the valley.

Although Stockwell does not paint for money, he does paint for a cause. The proceeds from his sales go to the Gore Range Natural Science School. VT

” From June 16 to June 30, “Watercolors by Sherwood Stockwell” will be exhibited at the Vail Library.

” Ursula Gross is a frequent contributor to The Vail Trail and can be reached at ursulagross@yahoo.com.

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