Special Feature | Crested Butte Invitational

On July 2, plein-air painters from across the United States converge on historic Crested Butte, CO. For the next two weeks, some 45 artists scatter into the old mining town’s streets and up into the surrounding mountains to capture some of this country’s most spectacular alpine scenery en plein air.

The event drawing these professional artists, the Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational, is the creation of Oh-Be-Joyful Gallery owner Shaun Horne. Having hosted the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters (RMPAP) National Show at the gallery last summer, Horne fine-tuned a variety of elements that he hopes will make for an even larger, stronger event.

This year, 40 participating artists are joined by five Emeritus Artists. “We did a lot of research on plein-air painters,” says Horne. Participants include Jake Gaedtke, Stacey Peterson, Kate Kiesler, and Nicholas Reti. The list of Emeritus Artists—artists considered to be leaders in the field—includes some of the most respected plein-air painters in the country: Kenn Backhaus, Gay Faulkenberry, Jean Le Gassick, Jay Moore, and Ralph Oberg.

End of the Valley by Jay Moore

“I don’t often do this sort of thing,” says Emeritus Artist Jay Moore. “I’ve known Shaun for a long time. I’ve seen him develop as an artist and a person, and I really like his dedication to painting from life. I attended the RMPAP show last year and saw the potential. I’ll be there for a full week, which is unusual for me. One of the days we’ve hired an outfitter to take us up to a high mountain lake. We’re going to get way up there into pristine areas to paint, and we’re really looking forward to that.”

Although the event officially begins on July 2, artists are arriving at different times over the course of a two-week period from July 2 to July 14. That makes it longer than most plein-air events, notes Emeritus Artist Gay Faulkenberry. “It gives you a chance to really get to know the area,” she says. “I’ve never been in Crested Butte, but I’ve painted all over that area. My favorite part is just being out there and painting.”

There are special events planned throughout the show including a Quick Draw, during which artists paint in a specific area of town within a specific period of time. The Quick Draw offers the public a chance to see the artists at work. These paintings are then available in a silent auction. “This is very exciting for patrons,” Horne says. “Last year we had a bidding war on Carol Swinney’s piece.”

Early in the event, there is a historic paint-out planned. “We’ll work with the local museum to do a walking tour of the historic buildings,” says Horne. One of Crested Butte’s charms is the colorfully painted wooden architecture. The bright, showy facades add to the area’s scenic allure.

The show culminates with a large exhibit and sale that opens on Friday, July 15, and runs through the weekend. “We’ll have a giant tent and some 400 fresh works painted over the course of the event,” says Horne. It’s a much larger scale than last year’s event; since the artists are painting for a considerably longer period of time, they can display more and much larger pieces.

Horne intends to make the Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational an annual event. “Plein-air painting and representational art have been pooh-poohed since the rise of abstract expressionism. But abstract art asks a lot of viewers,” Horne says. “The work is more about the artist. With representational painting you have a shared experience.” The artist shares something accessible with the viewer, and both gain through the experience.

Sundown on Crested Butte by Stacey Peterson

Being both a painter and a gallery owner, Horne hopes the event serves both the artists and their patrons. He has developed a system of partnerships that give patrons a chance to interact with artists in fun and meaningful ways. Crested Butte residents can volunteer to host artists in their homes and are rewarded with credits toward art purchases and the opportunity to view and purchase artworks prior to the show’s opening reception.

For the artists, the show is a chance to paint in some of the most sought-after scenery in the United States. Says artist Joshua Been, who’s returning for his second Crested Butte plein-air experience, “It’s hard to beat the beauty of that valley, especially at that time of year.”

For more information on the Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational: 970.349.5936 or www.crestedbuttepleinairinvitational.com.

Featured in July 2011.