Special Feature | Rocky Mountain Plein-Air Show

From July 27 to August 7, artists and collectors gather in Pagosa Springs, CO, to celebrate the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters’ 10th annual National Paint-Out and Show. The 12-day event begins with artists painting en plein air for up to 10 days, and it wraps up with a two-day show and sale at Wild Spirit Gallery in downtown Pagosa Springs. Along the way, artists and guests enjoy workshops, painting demonstrations, and an auction.

This year’s participating artists include members Jake Gaedtke, Stephen C. Datz, Ruth Rawhouser, and Pem Dunn along with guest artists Ann Larsen, Cecy Turner, Eleinne Basa, Bethanne Cople, Kaye Franklin, Aaron Schuerr, John Michael Carter, and Phil Starke.

With 43 painters spread out around the Pagosa Springs area for well over a week, the show offers collectors the opportunity to experience art up close and to purchase the freshest works from these artists. It also offers the chance to visit some of the most pristine wilderness areas in the country. Pagosa Springs is located in the upper San Juan Basin and is surrounded by more than 3 million acres of national forest and wilderness areas, including the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness. Combined they make up one of the largest contiguous wilderness areas in the nation.

For the artists, the show offers a chance to paint in some of the most scenic areas of the Rocky Mountain West, increased visibility for their art, and important interaction with peers. Painting, particularly plein-air painting, can be extremely isolating. The RMPAP group fosters fellowship among plein-air painters, and the shows provide venues for them to gather, paint together, and learn from each other. RMPAP President Stephen C. Datz says, “I’ve made tremendous friendships with these people over the years; this may be the only chance in a given year to spend quality time with them.

“This is our signature event where we focus on outreach and education,” Datz explains. “Our members think of
hemselves as ambassadors for plein-air painting.” Often people feel that art is above them and happens somewhere else. “If you’re painting on the side of road, people will stop and watch and talk to you,” he says. “We’re accessible to the public; we are bringing art back to the everyday person.” The interaction with artists brings art to a human level and encourages people to explore their own artistic leanings, he explains.

Finally, the organization gives back to the communities that host the shows via multiple avenues: The show promotes tourism to the area, provides art awareness and outreach to its denizens, and, in this case, makes a monetary gift to promote arts. “We’ve had such a warm welcome to the community, so we like to give something back,” Datz explains. This year the group will donate 5 percent of the sales from the Quick Draw to the Fine Arts Magnet Academy, a local program that offers arts-focused students opportunities for deeper learning.

The full roster of show events includes one- and two-day art workshops open to the public, a Quick Draw in which artists paint for a specific time period, an auction at which the Quick Draw paintings are sold, and painting demonstrations at Wild Spirit Gallery and at the town park.

The Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters was first organized in 2001—the brainchild of artist Karol Mack and her son Brian, an Estes Park gallery owner. It began with a small group of artists (Carol Swinney, Jeanne Mackenzie, Jake Gaedtke) gathering for paint-outs. The logical outcome of the paint-outs was an exhibition of the works that resulted from them. The first National Paint-Out and Show, also in 2001, brought together 41 painters. Since then, the membership has grown to 54 artists, and the national shows attract between 40 and 50 of the country’s best plein-air artists.

When asked about his favorite part of the show, Datz thinks for a moment. “It’s hard to pick a favorite part. I really like to travel to new areas, but I think for me it is the family reunion aspect. It’s the social aspect and the opportunity to go out and explore some beautiful country.”

For more information about the RMPAP National Paint-Out and Sale: 970.264.9453 or www.rmpap.org. -Laura Rintala

Featured in August 2011.