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Red Brick Center adds solo shows to exhibition program, beginning with Aspen’s Gary Gleason

The Red Brick Center for the Arts will be giving select local artists some extra space in the spotlight.

The city-operated Hallam Street gallery has expanded its hanging space into a conference room and foyer on its west side and designated it for solo exhibitions that will hang alongside the traditional group shows lining the corridors of the Red Brick.

"This will allow more opportunities for artists in the valley to exhibit and provide an especially unique one, because it will be a solo exhibition space," Red Brick director Sarah Roy said in the gallery Tuesday.

The Red Brick also is planning to begin staging solo exhibitions in its main gallery space beginning in 2020. Roy is accepting applications from artists now.

The nonprofit gallery will host six exhibitions this year. It scaled back its schedule of rotating monthly art exhibitions in 2018, following the financial fallout of an alleged embezzlement of some $160,000 in taxpayer dollars by former Red Brick director Angela Callen.

The group show "Landscapes" opens today, exhibiting diverse interpretations of the landscape form by eight locally based artists.

And in the new West Gallery space, longtime local Gary Gleason is exhibiting 10 of his abstract photographs. The show is the culmination of a decade-long art project for Gleason. It began with a moment of inspiration walking along a canal in Amsterdam in 2008.

"Something in me said, 'Go take a picture!'" Gleason said. "I did and it came out all freaky and cool."

The iPhone photo, blown up to 30-by-40 inches and printed on dye-impregnated aluminum, doesn't much resemble the canal water. It looks more like an abstract painting, with interlocking black, white, gray and brown forms. In the years that followed that shot, Gleason collected similar digital photos that captured a bit of abstract magic from the natural world. None of them are touched-up or distorted with Photoshop or other computer programs — they came out this way.

"After this decade of evolution, it's the core elements of sky, water, air, fire and rock," he explained. "Trying to capture images, patterns, textures. There's so much that we just walk past every day and don't notice."

Other pieces in the show include a shot of rocks through creek water in the Grand Canyon, which looks like a drip painting, and one from a plane window capturing a sunrise in Kansas that looks like a color field painting with the pale blue of sky bleeding into yellow and orange of emerging sunlight above brown earth.

A close-up photo of the patterned stains on the asphalt of a San Francisco street looks like scuffed denim to Gleason, but he wants to know what other people find in these works.

"People see different stuff in them and that's the most exciting part," he said. "I'm excited to have people come in and to hear what they have to say about these."

Gleason is a familiar face in Aspen. He's lived here full time since 1989 and his family has been here since his parents built a slopeside cabin on Aspen Mountain in 1960. He put together a career here doing marketing for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, working disaster relief for the federal government and running a small poster-hanging business.

Gleason also, fortuitously, worked on the campaign to gather votes from the public for the city of Aspen to buy the Red Brick from the school district a quarter-century ago. Now the space is hosting his first local art show.

Until recently, his art was a private passion. Gleason had his first exhibition in Denver last year.

"Art has been a deep part of my life and my heart, but hasn't been how I make a living," he said.

atravers@aspentimes.com

Jazz Aspen’s June Experience moving from Benedict Tent to multiple venues downtown this summer

The Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience is leaving the Benedict Music Tent in 2019 and planting its flag in downtown Aspen.

After a decade at the 2,000-seat West End concert hall that also is home to the summer-long Aspen Music Festival season, Jazz Aspen is reimagining its June event as a four-day, multi-venue festival featuring as many as 15 artists playing more intimate venues in the walkable downtown core.

Jazz Aspen President Jim Horowitz said Tuesday that the shows will be comparable with the ones featured in the nonprofit's popular JAS Cafe series, which hosts artists working in jazz and related genres at pop-up venues like the Little Nell hotel and the rooftop cafe at the Aspen Art Museum.

This reimagined Jazz Aspen June Experience will run from June 20 to 23. Jazz Aspen will host concerts at the established JAS Cafe venues at the Nell and the museum, with hopes of confirming the Aspen Cooking School, St. Regis, Belly Up, Harris Concert Hall and adding other stages to the mix.

"We are looking for unique collaborations," Horowitz said. "Hopefully a lot of things will pop out, in terms of collaboration, that we're not thinking about yet."

The festival's long-running collaborative concert with the Aspen Music Festival, scheduled for June 29 with a yet-to-be-announced program, will stay at the Benedict.

In 2020, as Jazz Aspen celebrates its 30th anniversary, the festival is planning to host the downtown June Experience in conjunction with Benedict shows.

Festival organizers expect to tally a cumulative attendance that is on par with the crowds it has hosted since 2009 at the Benedict, only spread across multiple venues seating a few hundred people or less.

The decision, Horowitz said, was based on the popularity of Jazz Aspen's seasonal JAS Cafe, which runs through the summer and winter high seasons. Horowitz said he and his team began mulling the June festival shift as they realized the season-long attendance of the JAS Cafe, totalling some 8,000 concert-goers, was nearly doubling the 4,5000 typically attending the June Experience at the Benedict.

"What's driven this is the explosive growth of the JAS Cafe series," he said. "It's changed the way we approach June fundamentally."

Horowitz imagines a long weekend full of concerts, with attendees walking from show to show.

He compared his vision for the multi-venue downtown festival to the old days of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, when comics took over venues throughout town, and the way that the Food & Wine Classic fills the downtown core, when, as Horowitz put it, "You can't be in town and not know it's going on."

He imagines people planning out a full festival experience, hopping from low-key afternoon panel discussions to vibrant concerts late into the night.

"We're taking 2019 to establish ourselves downtown," he said. "To let the town and the venues be the star, where you can't go one block without running into music or hearing something. Music everywhere."

The move downtown coincides with the nonprofit's recently launched JAS Center plan for the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall, which aims to open a music venue and education center there by 2021.

The new approach in 2019 will not include the big-name pop stars that the June festival has long relied upon to draw crowds.

"There will be no Joe Cockers or Tony Bennetts on the roof of the art museum," Horowitz said.

The trade-off, he said, is rather than a handful of pop star headliners — last year they were Leslie Odom Jr. and Lyle Lovett — the festival will boast a greater number of artists from a variety of genres.

"It feels fresh for us, but it's not out of thin air," he said. "We're taking venues that people know and programing them together over a couple days rather than every couple weeks. It's like taking a whole season of the Café and cramming it into one weekend."

Events will run from afternoon through early morning, including artist talks and staggered concerts featuring artists from jazz, soul, Latin, blues, funk and world music. Free performances, in the mold of the popular "lawn party" at the Benedict, also will continue downtown, according to Horowitz.

The lineup of June Experience artists is expected to be announced later this winter.

This move is the fourth change of venue for the June festival since it was founded in 1991. It had been held in the Benedict and surrounding environs of Aspen Meadows since 2009. Previously it was produced in Snowmass Village and in Rio Grande Park in Aspen.

Festival organizers have tinkered often with the format — adding the free lawn party concerts in recent years and, in 2018, bracketing two nights of concerts in the Benedict with JAS Cafe shows downtown and adding a free gospel concert on Sunday morning in the tent.

"It's a metamorphosis that's been underway for a while," Horowitz said of the latest format.

General admission passes will allow attendees to access all venues. Some single-show tickets also will be made available.

The donor/VIP accommodations, which in recent years have offered patrons catered meals and an open bar in a tent on the Benedict grounds, will include a cocktail party or dinner at a different location downtown each night. VIP perks also will include reserved seating and artist meet-and-greets.

People who have already purchased "Blind Faith" passes for the festival — which offer a discounted price on tickets before artists are announced — may choose a three-day pass to the new festival, a full refund or a credit toward future Jazz Aspen tickets.

Jazz Aspen's other big summer festival, the Labor Day Experience, is sticking with its long-established format in Snowmass Town Park. Headliners including Sting and John Mayer have already been announced.

atravers@aspentimes.com

Legendary all male comedy ballet company, ‘the Trocks,’ return to Aspen

The absurd, witty and over-the-top physical comedy of the beloved Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo returns to Aspen this weekend.

The all-male comedy ballet company, since 1974, has been infusing some welcome humor into the staid traditions of classical ballet with parodies of high-art standards like "Swan Lake."

"We are not there to laugh at ballet," said Raffaele Morra, the company's ballet master and former dancer. "We are there to use ballet as a way to have a fun time and to laugh with ballet."

The technical skill required of these dancers — affectionately known to international audiences as "the Trocks" — may be easy to overlook because they're purposely making some mistakes and incorporating some madcap physical comedy into the pieces. But make no mistake, these men in tutus and pointed shoes are some of the most talented dancers on Earth. In order to parody "Swan Lake," Morra noted, they have to be able to dance "Swan Lake" flawlessly.

"What requires more time is to make them understand how you have to let go of some of the technical aspect in order to find some of the humor," Morra explained. "That's very difficult for a dancer, to let go and not take yourself so seriously, especially after you've spent a lifetime in front of a mirror trying to achieve perfection in your technique."

The company returns to Aspen on the Saturday night of Gay Ski Week, following a December residency at the Joyce Theatre in Manhattan, where the Trocks revived its send-up of Robert La Fosse's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Morra said the company had been mulling taking on "Stars and Stripes" a few years ago, but put it on hold after the election of Donald Trump.

"We didn't think it was right at the time for us to bring back such a big celebration ballet with music from John Philip Sousa and others in a moment when we didn't feel we should celebrate," he explained.

But a few years later, yes, men in drag waving the flag feels just right.

"We do feel the need to celebrate, to say 'We need to keep going,' 'We need to make this happen again,'" he said. "Because the political situation is not great from our point of view, we want to say 'Keep celebrating no matter what.'"

The company has never been overtly political, but has spent four decades on the front lines of gay representation in American culture.

"With the Trocks, we never want to make a political statement or take sides," Morra said. "The main purpose of this company has always been — and always will be — to bring fun, laughter and good times to the audience."

The company has evolved with the times, always prioritizing the laughs and the satire, even as the culture wars have raged outside the theater doors.

"We just have to listen to society," Morra said. "If you see what the company was 44 years ago, the concept was the same, but it has changed a lot because we've always paid attention to what society needed and how we needed to evolve. We need to 'Keep on Trocking,' as we always say."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Documentary ‘The Quiet Force’ puts ski town immigrant communities in spotlight

The documentary "The Quiet Force" opens with President Donald Trump on screen at a rally promising to build his "great wall" and spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric. Headlines about immigration then flash across the screen in the film's early moments, interspersed with shots of young Latin skiers on the slopes.

The timely 35-minute film, by Jackson Hole-based ski filmmakers Hilary Byrne and Sophie Danison, paints a multi-faceted portrait of immigrants in American ski towns, their vital place in the tourism economy and the pall of fear cast over the community in the Trump era.

Byrne and Danison met while working on the popular 2014 all-female ski movie "Pretty Faces" and began talking about using their storytelling talents to be agents of change.

"We have been having a conversation since then about doing something with a little more meat that inspired social change," Byrne said in a recent phone interview. "We were both in a similar rut where we were doing cool stuff but not satiating that desire."

In March 2016, the publication of David Page's Powder magazine article "The Quiet Force," about immigrants in American ski towns, inspired the pair to start adapting it for the screen.

"And then Trump got elected and it became even more relevant," Byrne said.

The film will screen on Friday night at the Wheeler Opera House, as part of the two-day 5Point Aspen mini-festival, playing in a moment when the government has been shut down and Congress is gridlocked over the president's demand for a wall on the southern border.

The film profiles immigrant families with varying citizenship status in Mammoth and Jackson Hole, along with a young Salt Lake City woman with DACA status. The filmmakers also shot in Vail, but ended up cutting the footage from the film. It brings in elected officials, business owners, law enforcement officers, immigration experts and attorneys to frame the issue.

"It's not a ski film," said Byrne. "It's using these ski towns and industries to talk about an issue that can be applied everywhere."

It argues that, while immigrant labor props up the economy nationwide, its necessity is laid bare in smaller service-driven ski communities where infrastructure would crumble without immigrants.

"They are the people who keep this machine running," Mono County Sheriff Ingrid Braun says of the Mammoth area immigrants in the film. "It's unseen, the quiet workforce."

The movie also profiles young Latino skiers who have never known any life but the American ski town life, who still live with the fear of losing family members to deportation or of being deported themselves.

"Skiing makes me feel alive," one young skier says in the film.

"The best this is I'm a skier," Diana Zunga, the DACA recipient in Salt Lake, says, later adding while ski-touring in the Tetons: "It pushed me to be somebody who I wanted to be."

The film introduces viewers to characters like a Jackson Hole area carpenter, with a wife and two American-born children, who was brought here from Mexico by his parents as a teenager. He is now raising his kids as ski town rippers while living in the shadows.

"The Quiet Force" debuted, to a sold-out audience, at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts in November. The 5Point Aspen screening comes as it tours the west, with post-screening discussions with local immigration experts at each stop. After the Wheeler screening, Byrne will discuss immigration issues with Aspen Skiing Co. sustainability director Matt Hamilton and Valley Settlement director Jon Fox-Rubin.

"Our original goal was to spark conversation in our communities," Byrne said. "The idea is to see the film, feel some inspiration, then through the local experts on the topic figure out what exactly people can do in their community. We want people to walk away with a clear idea of what they can do."

And while ski town residents, ski industry leaders and local government officials tend to favor paths to citizenship over deportation and advocate keeping immigrant families together, the filmmakers believe the ski community is failing its immigrant community.

"A big reason we made this film is that we believe the ski and outdoor industries can use their voice a lot more," Danison said.

They want to see immigration reform become a priority for the industry on par with its advocacy for action on climate change and for protecting public lands.

"The industry has so much power and can speak up more for these people in our communities," she added.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has made its pro-immigrant stance a prominent plank in its recent values-based marketing campaigns and political activism. SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan, in a widely distributed December 2016 op-ed entitled "We're Still Here," called for deferred action policy for so-called "Dreamers" who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children and wrote "we are the Latino community — and we will remain a sanctuary for these co-workers and neighbors, students and parents, who will always be welcome in our schools and businesses and homes."

Hamilton said that the company's advocacy for immigrants is based in the company's economic needs and in its community values.

"Our success is not only tied to our company's success but the broader community's success," he said, reached by phone this week at a Florida conference of American businesses on immigration reform. "And that includes the community of immigrants."

National policy changes, like stricter limits on work visas, have harmed the company's ability to employ and retain foreign works who, as Hamilton put it, "meet the cultural needs of our guests." This winter, Hamilton said, 12 foreign SkiCo employees, in the week before they were schedule to begin working, were denied H-2B visas at the last minute because a government limit had been reached.

Hamilton, who also sits on the Roaring Fork School District board, said that fostering a safe and welcoming community in the valley is equally as important.

Hamilton said he hopes locals will contact their elected representatives after they leave Friday's screening and call for humane immigration reform, echoing the mission of the company's ongoing "Give a Flake" campaign for climate change policy.

"The most critical thing, whether it's immigration policy or climate policy, is that elected officials are not hearing from constituents," Hamilton said. "If there is one action people need to take, it's talking to elected officials about this government shutdown over border security."

Jon Fox-Rubin, executive director of Carbondale-based immigration support nonprofit Valley Settlement, said the situation outlined in the film mirrors the one in the Roaring Fork Valley, where immigrants are the backbone of the service industry and where a majority of Roaring Fork School District students are first- or second-generation immigrants.

Demand for Valley Settlement's services increased in the lead-up to the election in 2016 "when the rhetoric was getting harsher and harsher."

Policy tweaks and the president's rhetoric have made it less likely for immigrants to report crimes or serve as witnesses in the court system, Fox-Rubin noted. His nonprofit has focused on early childhood education for immigrant children, mentorship and services for adults such as language classes and degree opportunities. Fox-Rubin chooses to view "The Quiet Force" and events like Friday's 5Point screening as a source of hope in this often-bleak moment.

"For me it's sharing this hope of people really settling in their new community," he said of the movie. "Watching kids in the film say 'I am a skier' and defining who they are that way, that's a hopeful sign that they feel like they are a part of this country regardless of the stress and trauma that is in their background. That's a path to the American dream."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Peter Waanders takes the helm at Anderson Ranch Arts Center

Peter Waanders, the new president and CEO of Anderson Ranch Arts Center, has an origin story that mirrors that of many an accidental Aspenite.

He came to town two decades ago for what he thought was a short stay, taking on a consulting job with Explore booksellers.

"And like every Aspen story, that short gig is still going on 20 years later," Waanders, 49, said before Christmas in the Ranch's library on its Snowmass Village campus.

Along the way, he built a career, got married, had two kids, and settled at the North Forty. So when Anderson Ranch went looking for a new leader, they found one, in Waanders, just down the road from its campus. After nearly a yearlong search for an executive to replace retiring executive director Nancy Wilhelms, Anderson Ranch last month tapped Waanders. His first day on the job is Tuesday.

"We conducted an international search to find the right fit for this president and CEO role, and are delighted to have found someone with knowledge, enthusiasm and a tremendous reputation right in our own backyard," Sue Hostetler, chair of the Ranch's board of trustees said in announcing Waanders' hiring last month.

After his stint at Explore, Waanders did work for a local accountant, through which he met the influential Aspen gallerist David Floria. Waanders became a partner in Floria's much loved — and sorely missed since its closure — gallery space. It was there that he met art collectors and local philanthropists, which propelled in 2011 to take on the role of director of the Aspen Institute's Society of Fellows donor group, which gives paying fellows access to private Institute sessions with policy and issue experts from a wide range of fields.

There, the Indiana native and University of Pennsylvania alumnus honed his stills in both business and programming.

"Society of Fellows is a little business — you've got programming, clients, budget and staff," he said. "It felt like, 'How do you run a little business and help people be their best?'"

Like the Anderson Ranch post, his Institute duties included a lot of fundraising. There is significant overlap in the donors and potential donors between the two, he said.

"The summer people that drive the success of all of our nonprofits, the Ranch is always in the top three or four nonprofits they talk about," Waanders said.

In terms of getting people to write checks, there also is a lot of crossover in fundraising strategy between Society of Fellows and Anderson Ranch, Waanders said. Raising money at the Institute, he explained, was based around finding areas that donors cared about and providing them experiences at seminars with experts in those areas.

"The philosophy was not, 'How much money can I get this philanthropist to give, but what is this philanthropist passionate about and how can I get connected?'" Waanders explained.

He hopes to do the same at Anderson Ranch, he said, "to have that same model of saying 'Get your hands dirty, hang out in the woodworking shop, and invest in what you're really passionate about.' … I hope to introduce people to what we do here and let them get excited about what they are excited about."

He hopes to build upon the Ranch's international reputation in the art world and among its community of local artists to expand its base of participants and supporters.

"There is a huge opportunity of people who would love what the Ranch offers but haven't connected with what it is, because they haven't put their feet on the campus," he said. "Once you do, it's a magical experience."

Waanders is not an artist, though he's proud of the shipping crate he converted into a backyard fort for his children. That, he said, is fitting for an organization built on democratic artistic ideals and being open to all creative people.

"The idea is that everyone is a maker and everyone has this in their life," he said. "They can learn from experts, deepen their understanding and deepen their skills. It's part of what excited me about being at the Ranch."

An art enthusiast, he has works hanging in his home including a Robert Kelly collage, a Carol Summers print, a Caio Fonseca painting, an April Vollmer woodcut and works by Aspen art figures including Herbert Bayer, painter Richard Carter, ceramicist and Anderson Ranch stalwart Sam Harvey and Anderson Ranch trustee Lloyd Schermer.

Waanders takes the helm of the Ranch after a stretch of successes under Wilhelms, who took the reins in 2013 as the nonprofit was recovering from an employee embezzlement that robbed some $736,000 from the nonprofit between 2007 and 2009, and the abrupt departure of director Barbara Bloemink after she clashed with the board of trustees. The five years since have seen the Ranch's free Summer Series talks become one of the most talked about events of the season, making it a destination for luminaries like Frank Stella and Ai Weiwei, hosting residencies from emerging artists as well as established stars like the Haas Brothers and Tom Sachs, new scholarships to attract a more economically diverse student base, a new intensive mentorship program and the build-up of an $8.5 million endowment.

"The Ranch is in a really strong position," Waanders said. "It's not a turn-around. It's not a start-up. It's a ramp-up. They've got a great staff, great artists, a great reputation. I hope I can come in and help people to do their best."

Many of the recent initiatives at the Ranch resulted from a five-year strategic plan aimed at growth through 2020. Waanders will be in charge of the vision beyond that.

Named to the post last month, Waanders has used the interim — while he's still been working full-time at the Institute — on what he dubbed a "curiosity tour" of the Ranch, taking time to understand how it works.

The Ranch has restructured its top job for Waanders, with him serving as a CEO alongside a rotating co-head "curator in residence." One of his first duties is to find the first curator. Waanders and the Ranch board will fine tune the duties and funding for that position in the coming days, aiming to hire the first resident curator in the next 90 days. He's meeting with artists, collectors and Ranch board members to refine ideas for the position.

"Doing it right is more important to me and to Sue than to do it quickly," Waanders said.

The curator's specialty, Waanders suggested, might drive the programming at the Ranch, build programs and exhibitions around the curator's passions and expertise.

"That brings in a fresh way of looking at things on an annual or every-two-year basis," he said. "The idea that this curator could build this energy around a new idea is that no matter how long you have been involved with the Ranch, you are looking at next year as a new way to think about it and have fun with it."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Carbondale Clay Center hosts new show by Annette and Andrew Roberts-Gray

Visitors to Carbondale Clay Center will travel through time, as local artists Annette and Andrew Roberts-Gray open their latest collaborative show.

“We are really excited and honored to host this collaborative exhibit by Andrew and Annette Roberts-Gray. The work in this show spans a variety of mediums, including clay, to present a unique and atypical exhibition for the Carbondale Clay Center,” Clay Center Executive Director Angela Bruno said.

The center will officially open the show with a reception from 6-8 p.m. Friday.

The show uses the 1968 pop song “In the Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans, as the theme for presented works in ceramic and painting mediums.

“It was a number one hit, it has a sort of a dystopian, future-like theme to it,” artist Andrew Roberts-Gray said.

Both artists have taught at the Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, and have extensively exhibited their work throughout the valley and beyond.

The narrative elements of the songs are used as suggestions for visual tone, imagery and context for paintings, sculpture and mixed-media work.

“I think people will be really excited from our generations who remember the song,” he added.

The show represents the second collaboration between the couple that have lived in the Roaring Fork Valley since the early 1990s.

“Most of the collaborative work in the show are paintings. We’ve worked together on paper,” Robert-Gray said. “It’s a blend of traditional landscapes and science fiction — what the future may hold technologically.”

The event will include entertainment with Carbondale’s own “Let them Roar” playing live.

The center will also offer refreshments at the reception.

The exhibition will run through Jan. 25 at the Carbondale Clay Center, located at 135 Main St.

“I think people will find that the imagery is very accessible,” he said.

“The ideas are ones that they are familiar with, just presented in a way that will surprise them.”

Toklat Gallery celebrates 70 years of Aspen, Ashcroft and Basalt history

Every once in a while at her Toklat Gallery in Basalt, Lynne Mace meets a stranger with a link to the family gallery's storied past as a wilderness lodge, restaurant and dog-sledding operation.

"One of my greatest joys is when someone comes in and says, 'Oh, my parents took me on a dog sled trip there when I was a kid!'" Mace said on a recent afternoon at the gallery, as Mace and her two pet dogs — Li Wu and Harper — prepared for a big party.

Toklat is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2019, beginning with an artists' reception and exhibition today. It will include the unveiling the massive new oil painting "Legends of Ashcroft," by local artist Veryl Goodnight, depicting the Mace family's legendary huskies pulling a dogsled in the Castle Creek Valley.

Goodnight is among 16 artists whose work Mace is spotlighting as she kicks off a yearlong anniversary celebration at the Basalt gallery. Lynne's late father, the Toklat founder Stuart Mace, also has photographs in the show, along with a diverse collection of wildlife sculptures, marquetry, jewelry, furniture and paintings.

"This is a great convergence of art," she said.

Stuart and Isabel Mace officially opened the Toklat Wilderness Lodge in the upper reaches of the Castle Creek Valley near the Ashcroft ghost town on June 27, 1949, coinciding with the Goethe Bicentennial and the birth of modern Aspen. Its first guests — who could only access the lodge by dogsled — were attendees of the Goethe conference that launched "the Aspen idea," the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School and the rebirth of Aspen itself.

While its locations and its businesses have shifted over the decades, art has been a constant at Toklat. In the early years of the lodge and dog-sled operation at Ashcroft, the family kept a small building in front of it that functioned as an art gallery and gift shop showcasing three-dimensional crafts. It also operated as a filming location for the television series "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," co-starring the Toklat dogs, in the 1950s. In downtown Aspen during the 1950s and '60s, the Maces also operated a kiosk art gallery in front of The Aspen Times on Main Street. That shop offered Lynne Mace her first experience as a gallerist, working the kiosk after school as a teenager.

The family's restaurants in Aspen also always included arts and crafts offerings for guests. The Ashcroft space — which doubled as the Mace family home — became a dedicated gallery and restaurant in 1974, after Mace gave his dogsledding business to musher and future Krabloonik proprietor Dan MacEachen.

"Up there in Ashcroft, there was always art," Lynne Mace recalled.

Through all the evolutions of Toklat, she sees a consistency of style in the kinds of art that has suited Toklat: "beautiful, hand-crafted art that wasn't high end." It's ranged from her father's photography to Zapotec rugs and paintings by local artists to handmade furniture and woodworks.

For the anniversary show, she asked local painters Michael Kinsley and Doug Graybeal — both of whom have been exhibiting at Toklat for decades — to make new paintings of the Castle Creek Valley.

Stuart and Isabel Mace were a living embodiment of the Aspen Idea, devoting their life here to physical, artistic and spiritual pursuits in the mountains. They raised their five children at Toklat in that mold.

"I wanted to give my kids a place to build their mind, body, imagination and artistic sense," Stuart Mace said in a 1974 "Bill Moyers Journal" segment. "You can't appreciate your fellow man until you appreciate nature; without that you can't feel any wholeness."

All of the Mace kids, Lynne said, carried their dad's passions into their own adult lives, whether it was botany or photography or art appreciation or conservation.

"We all took a bit of something from this big pot of fabulous art," she said.

The Maces came to Aspen on a personal invitation from city father Walter Paepcke, who wrote to Stuart Mace in December 1947 encouraging him to relocate his Boulder-based dogsled touring operation to Aspen. Mace had developed his dog skills during his service in World War II, when he refused to carry a gun and instead ran sled-dog rescue operations in alpine theaters of combat. Lynne Mace reprinted the Paepcke letter recently as part of her ongoing "The Storykeeper" blog, celebrating the history of Toklat.

"We have followed a strict policy in the development of Aspen to encourage only those whom we consider tops in their line," Paepcke wrote, pointing to the Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer, pastry chef Louis Nielsen, ski racer Dick Durrance and instructors Friedl Pfeifer and Fred Iselin as the "top" of their respective fields he'd recruited to the quiet mountain town.

Paepcke urged Mace to join them as their top dogsled man, offering financial incentives and land.

"If we continue to have enough first-raters in all the various activities around Aspen, then there is no question in my mind but what Aspen itself and everybody who lives and works there will have a bright future," Paepcke wrote.

The Maces, with their famed dogs in tow, took over 2.7 acres of land near Ashcroft and built what would become Toklat from recycled stone and lumber.

Decades later in 1993, Lynne Mace, who had been living in Connecticut, returned home to manage Toklat. She sold the historic Ashcroft building to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies — of which her father was a founding board member — in 2005 and moved the gallery to Basalt.

While the rustic Toklat legacy has lived on in the museum-like Basalt space, she expressed disappointment that the ACES has done little to honor her father's legacy in Ashcroft since the nonprofit took over the Ashcroft site 14 years ago.

"The legacy of my father's influence should be at ACES," she said. "I don't know how it's manifesting itself. They bought it and just let it sit."

But the Roaring Fork Valley will be toasting the Mace family legacy in the gallery on Friday and all year long. Lynne Mace, 73, said she didn't go all out for the 60th anniversary because it came as the Great Recession was hitting the valley. A decade later, she's making up for it and relishing the moment.

"I decided I'm going to celebrate this one," she said, adding with a chuckle: "because I don't know if I'm going to be around for eight decades."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Colorado’s The Motet bring new funk offerings to Belly Up

As The Motet prepares to release its ninth studio album, the Colorado funk heroes are road-testing the new material in Aspen.

The band's "Death Or Devotion" is due out Jan. 25. They'll headline Belly Up Aspen on Friday as they kick off a national tour in support of the record.

It's the first Motet album that singer Lyle Divisnky has been a part of from start to finish. Divinsky joined the band three years ago, trying out for lead singer, in part, by writing vocal parts around already-recorded instrumentals for The Motet's 2016 album "Totem."

"It was my audition process in a sense," Divinsky said in a recent phone interview from home in Denver.

On "Death Or Devotion," Divinsky sought to leave his mark on the beloved Colorado band's signature funk sound by infusing his soulful vocals with some substantive lyrics.

The Motet built its fanbase on their boisterous live shows, feel-good up-tempo funk and 420-friendly party-starting songs. But Divisnky is also aiming to bring some of our national moment's political urgency to the band's new tracks, like the call to action "Whacha Gonna Bring," which the get-out-the-vote organization HeadCount used as a campaign song in advance of the fall midterm elections.

"It was important to me to try to bring some more substance to the nonstop dance party," he said. "You're going to instantly be grooving and bobbing your head, but if you listen to the lyrics, you'll find something there."

The Motet's songwriting process on "Death Or Devotion," he said, usually started with bandleader, drummer and founding member Dave Watts and the rhythm section putting together demos and instrumental song sketches. They handed them over to Divinsky to write a song around. From there, he said, the horn section develops their parts on top. Then they all perfected the tracks together in a Littleton studio.

"It's almost a conveyor belt kind of thing," Divinsky said.

The personnel of The Motet has evolved often over the past two decades. Along with Divinsky, the saxophonist Drew Sayers and trumpeter Parris Fleming have joined the lineup in recent years. Funk is the common ground among the seven-piece outfit, Divinsky said, but they each bring diverse influences and perspectives from roots reggae to jazz, hip-hop, blues, soul and psych rock.

"As you look at The Motet, there are so many genres that the band has passed through and so many different musics we've jumped in on," Divinsky said. "The only constant in this band is change."

Divinsky said he's been welcomed with open arms by Motet fans.

"It's a huge testament to out fans — they're so welcoming," he said. "When there's a new member, it's like 'Oh, we get a another member of the family and we get to hear the band in a different way.' That's been the impressive thing about the Motet community. It's just nonstop creativity and openness."

A Portland, Maine, native who had a solo career in New York before heading west to join The Motet, Divinsky has been floored by the vibrant Colorado live music scene, where every night feels like Saturday night.

"Coloradans want to get the most out of life," he said. "There's a search for adrenaline, good times, community togetherness. And I think that, of course, that's going to shape us."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Gregory Popovich’s not so stupid pet tricks return to Aspen

The Wheeler Opera House is going to the dogs – and the cats, the doves, and other members of the animal kingdom – as famed animal trainer and circus performer Gregory Popovich brings his Comedy Pet Theater back to town on Friday.

The cast of the family-friendly show includes cats, dogs, parrots, doves and a mini horse.

“I try to open the personality of each pet,” Popovich said during a 2015 swing through Aspen.

Skits include a dog classroom, where dogs act as Popovich’s students and “Animal Train Station,” where he acts as a train conductor collecting tickets from animals.

This winter, Popovich is on a national tour with his cast of 30-some animals. They travel in a custom-made trailer that includes heating, air conditioning, water and other amenities to keep his four-legged supporting cast comfortable, Popovich said.

“Our main message is that animals are people, too,” he explained. “It’s not just pets doing simple tricks. I’ve found different ways to have pets in situations where it looks like pets are acting – they are acting.”

His castmates aren’t groomed, specially bred performers or show animals. They’ve all been adopted from shelters. The love and camaraderie of traveling and performing, Popovich said, helps rehabilitate animals that might have had difficult beginnings.

“It takes weeks to rebuild communication and trust,” he said. “Coming out of shelters, many of them have lost their trust in humans.”

And cats – those divas of the animal kingdom – tend to pose some extra challenges, even for Popovich, author of “You CAN Train Your Cat: Secrets of a Master Cat Trainer.”

“Cats are difficult animals and you can’t push them to do anything they don’t like,” he said.

A fifth generation circus performer and Russian native, he grew up in the world of animal training and juggling (he’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for juggling nine rings while standing atop a nine-foot ladder). He began performing in Las Vegas in the early 1990s with his wife and their pet cat. As they got involved in pet adoption advocacy work, they added to the animal cast and repertoire of tricks, becoming a hit in Vegas and around the world – soon landing Popovich and his furry friends on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “America’s Got Talent.”

Showbiz is in Popovich’s blood. But his heart is in finding good homes for good animals.

“Ordinary pets can do interesting things,” he said. “They’re talented. And if anyone adopts a pet after our show, then our message is being heard.”

 

atravers@aspentimes.com

New biography and retrospective exhibition celebrate artist Earl Biss

When the famed Crow Nation painter and longtime Aspenite Earl Biss selected Lisa Gerstner as his authorized biographer in 1994, the groundbreaking artist and notorious local character unsurprisingly told the writer he did not want to be subject of a straightforward historical treatment.

"Earl was so unconventional, he didn't want it to be a conventional biography," Gerstner, whose book has finally been published by American Design Ltd, said in a recent phone interview. "He didn't even care if it was in chronological order, because he didn't live his life that way."

Gerstner's long-gestating "Experiences with Earl Biss: The Spirit Who Walks Among His People" is a fittingly nontraditional biography about a decidedly rebellious artist. Aspen Grove Fine Art is celebrating its publication with two days of events with Gerstner and a retrospective exhibition of Biss paintings selected from the gallery's voluminous holdings of his work. John Goekler also will be on hand to sign his companion coffee-table book "Moving Paint: The Life and Art of Earl Biss."

"Experiences with Earl Biss" is told in short but vivid first-person vignettes about Gerstner's days with the artist as his biographer in his final years.

She recounts watching him paint in his mesmerizingly fast-paced and improvisatory style. She reproduces conversations with Biss about his aims as an artist, both visually and spiritually. She chronicles his long professional relationship with gallerist and American Design president Paul Zueger. She brings readers into gallery openings across Colorado and out for drinks with Biss at the Woody Creek Tavern. She joins him for a court hearing (Biss' attorney balked at the artist inviting his biographer along) and on one rollicking day in Aspen as Biss plotted to flee his legal troubles to Venezuela and had her tag along as he sought out an old girlfriend, his attorney and a machine gun.

It's a subjective and selective view of the artist, trying to portray his soul rather than recount biographical detail (a chapter on Biss' marriages states he was married at least eight and perhaps as many as 11 times). It is a lively read.

Biss made untold thousands of oil paintings and serigraphs in his 30-year career as a painter, which mirrored the boom of contemporary Native American art in the second half of the 20th century. Many of his works now hang in international museum collections.

Gerstner argues that Biss, who died of a stroke at age 51 in 1998, broke new ground by merging indigenous American subjects with the advanced painting techniques of the old European masters. An extraordinary colorist, he had studied in the Netherlands as a young man — following work at the Institute of American Indian Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute — and used the old-world traditions of oil painting to craft a contemporary vision of Plains Indians and scenes from the Crow Nation's land in Montana, where Biss grew up.

"It wasn't a nostalgic look, like 'Oh, here are some cool Indians from 150 years ago,'" Gerstner said. "It was a vibrant presence that is alive today."

His more abstract works of horsemen were made in a kinetic and improvisational action-painting style that's captured thrillingly in footage from Gerstner's in-progress documentary film about Biss, a 12-minute excerpt of which she will be showing at Aspen Grove this week. Those paintings have the uncanny effect of evoking animals in motion on the windy plains.

"He was trying to reach beyond this world when he painted," she explained. "All of those splatters in there and loose brush strokes — it's not fixed. It's not saying 'here is a horse.' It's descriptive, but not so tightly defined that it doesn't let your mind roam free. His paintings let you have your own experience."

Biss himself said his improvisatory tactics were a way of transcending self-consciousness and tapping into the spiritual.

"The lack of thought brings the greatest inspiration, in my opinion. I work so fast and so spontaneously that it would be physically impossible to think," Biss said the year before he died. "I try to keep everything out of my mind so that I can act like a conduit with this energy flowing through it."

The splatters of paint that pepper so many of Biss' paintings, Gerstner recalled, Biss would refer to as "atoms" and "sparks of consciousness."

Gerstner began working on the book 24 years ago when she was living in Glenwood Springs (it opens with a colorful story of the late Nancy Pfister introducing Gerstner and Biss). The biography's long journey to the page was complicated by Biss' often-messy and still-mysterious life, as well as legal battles over ownership of his work that ensued after his death.

"A life like Earl's, which is very controversial, it takes years for the dust to settle," she said. "At first people didn't even want to talk about him."

Through the 1980s and '90s when he lived in Aspen, Biss was a revered artist but also known to run afoul of the law.

"He was in the newspaper often for good things and sometimes for being in jail for a fight or tax evasion or drinking too much," Gerstner said. "A lot of people characterized him as a wild character, and he was."

As Biss once put it: "I use the Indian ways an awful lot in the white man's world. They can't figure it out."

He encouraged the author not to sugarcoat his life.

"He said, 'Put in the good with the bad,'" Gerstner recalled. "He knew who he was. He didn't like to follow rules. They were, to him, 'the white man's rules' and he didn't feel he should toe that line."

But his unconventional lifestyle and his troubles, Gerstner said, ought not overshadow his genius.

"People misunderstood the depth of what this guy was about," she said. "The depth of Earl Biss — of him as a human being and the mastery of his art — was profound and it was an honor to be trusted with this story."

Biss was unafraid to admit that he cared about his artistic legacy.

"It's very important to me that I be recognized for something that I put my entire life into," he says in Gerstner's documentary excerpt. "That it was not all in vain."

atravers@aspentimes.com