|LEN CHMIEL IN HIS STUDIO. PHOTO BY JOHN LECOQ|
By Rose Glaser
The amazing thing about Len Chmiel’s brand-new studio in the small agricultural community of Hotchkiss, CO, is that in building it he managed to combine his passion for painting with his love of cultivating the land. In doing so, he has literally surrounded himself in a work of art.
His studio has all the basic requirements for an artist: huge north-facing windows, high ceilings, a skylight over the easel, hardwood floors, lots of room to stand back from a painting in progress, and plenty of places to set out smaller paintings from which to paint larger pieces. Yet for Chmiel, it was the tiniest of details that made the whole structure sing.
In designing the studio, Chmiel approached the high-country mesa where it sits as if it were a blank canvas. “I used intense little architectural details to compliment the big areas. I tried to keep it organized while adding these visual surprises to make it interesting,” he says. “I do the same thing with my paintings. In fact, I do the same thing with my life.”
The overall design is a hybrid of New Mexico and California mission revival styles with some Spanish and Portuguese thrown in to give it a Mediterranean look. As for the details: Chmiel carved the cedar posts that flank the windows by hand, each with a unique pattern; jewel-toned Mexican tiles adorn the windowsills inside and out. The multicolored tile roof reflects the hues of the high-country terrain, and 14-inch-thick walls not only keep the temperature constant but also are covered in natural stucco that appears to change color with the sun’s position in the sky. According to Chmiel, natural stucco oxidizes over time, showing hairline cracks in the surface. “I wanted my studio to feel like it belonged here. The imperfections don’t bother me,” he says. “I don’t need perfect. I don’t like perfect, actually.”
Now that the studio is complete, Chmiel plans to take advantage of the extended growing season by planting several varieties of wine grapes. Though he probably won’t harvest enough fruit to join the area’s ever-growing list of wineries—painting does come first—he is truly content to have created a place that allows him to pursue his many passions. As he says, “I wake up in the morning and walk outside and say, I can’t believe I’ve done this, it’s so wonderful here.”
Chmiel is represented by Stremmel Gallery, Reno, NV, and Bishop Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, and Allenspark, CO.
Featured in September 2002