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Aspen History: ‘In the name of progress’

“Another of Aspen’s old landmarks goes down in the name of ‘Progress,’” announced the Aspen Daily Times on July 7, 1955. “The old assay office at the corner of Main and Galena Streets has been torn down by Mike and Vic Caparrella during the past week for owner William R. Shaw, to make way for the new super Conoco service station to be built this summer by Continental Oil Company. This house was originally built facing Main Street between the Conoco station and Fisher’s Fixit Shop but moved to face Galena Street about 40 years ago. It has been known as the Assay Office since Lloyd Ward established a furnace and other equipment to assay the Aspen area silver and lead ores about 1927. William R. Shaw, now county judge, bought the property in about 1925 and has owned it since. The property has been taken over by the Continental Oil Company under a long-term lease and they will build a modern service station on the corner. After the death of Lloyd Ward in 1946 the building was vacant until the Hospital Thrift Shop was started there by Bob Marsh. Later renters have been the Aspen Silversmith owned by Jim Hayes and the Emporium owned by Ed Smart. The contract for the new station has been awarded to August Shroder who is expected to start yet this week on the new structure. Jesse Maddalone, present lessee of the Conoco station, will be in charge of the new station upon completion.” This image shows the Conoco Station under construction in 1955.

A Winery to Watch: Three friends and their Minus Tide Wines

It’s nice when a plan comes together.

The troika of partners at Minus Tide Wines of Mendocino County are enjoying the kind of “overnight” success that only comes after years of preparation, perspiration and planning.

It was the mid-2000s when three budding California wine entrepreneurs — Kyle Jeffrey from So Cal, Miriam Pitt of Palo Alto and Brad Jonas from the Mendocino Coast — experienced the serendipitous magic of chance meetings on the campus at Cal Poly University in San Louis Obispo (SLO).

“I think I just found out while we were standing in line on, like our first day at school, that he was also into wakeboarding,” Kyle laughs now about meeting Brad.

Soon enough, the pair – who had both arrived to study in the school’s highly acclaimed, hands-on enology program — discovered they had much more in common than just wakeboarding. “We had similar palates and preferences,” Brad said. “And from a philosophical standpoint we knew that we wanted to make site-specific, vineyard driven wines with a minimalist approach.” Sharing their love of wine, Miriam took a different path studying wine tourism and marketing. But when the three got together back in those days at SLO, the synergy of interests, ambitions and talents led them to dream about one day making wine together.

Cut to 2020 and Kyle, Brad and Miriam (now married to Brad) are preparing to produce their fourth vintage of Minus Tide Wines after receiving rave reviews for many of their first releases, especially their Old Vine Carignan Rosé. And they have done all this as a “second job,” as all three hold full-time positions helping others produce and sell their wines.

In her role as an account executive at JAM PR, Miriam has had a hand in public relations for a number of the most lauded brands in wine, including Duckhorn, Spottswoode, Sea Smoke and Chappellet, among others. Skills perfected there have helped her present and promote the Minus Tide wines professionally to many of the world’s top wine journalists.

Kyle and Brad worked harvests over the past decade in far-flung wine destinations. These include the biodynamic vineyards of Henri Cruchon in Lausanne, Switzerland, the cool climate pinot fields of Central Otago in New Zealand and the syrah/shiraz hotspot of Australia’s McLaren Vale. Now Kyle is the winemaker for Woods Beer and Wine Co. on Treasure Island in San Francisco, while Brad serves daily as assistant winemaker at pinot noir specialist Toulouse Vineyards in Philo in the heart of the Anderson Valley. That is where Minus Tide produces their wines. “Vern Boltz (Toulouse owner and wineamaker) gave us his blessing to make our wines in his facility, otherwise we couldn’t have done this (project),” Brad said.

The global experience has brought the trio to the sweet spot of Mendocino, where the focus is on the production of the non-interventionist processes that are the hallmark of the Minus Tide wines. Site-specificity, as the original philosophy dictated, shows itself in the cool climate style Minus Tide Syrah from the Valenti Vineyard, which sits high in the coastal mountains just a few miles from the Pacific in the Mendocino Ridge appellation. This wine has notes reminiscent of a peppery Côte-Rôtie made from the same variety in the Northern Rhone region of France.

Then there is the Minus Tide 100% Carignan sourced from ancient vines at the Feliz Creek vineyard near Hopland, California. Not a variety you’ll find much of in the new world, Brad raves about the vines from which they hail. “These are enormous, gnarly vines, many up to 80 years old.” The wine is fermented in a closed-top, egg-shaped fermenter and is presented un-fined and unfiltered. A wine that proves everything old is new again. I recently put a chill on a bottle and sipped it with some deeply smoky pork ribs and loved it.

Oh, and about the name: Brad grew up along the Mendocino Coast. “We were looking for something that evoked the feel of the ocean, and a minus tide is when you can really see what is going on along the coast,” he explained. The logo features an abalone shell on a vineyard post and sets a tone so strong one feels the salt of the sea.

Still, I can’t help but think the tide is rising for these three college friends.

Writing Switch: These creatures need no (re)introduction

talk of reintroducing wolves to Colorado has been somewhat controversial. Those against bringing back the predators cite concerns over farming and safety. We’re assuming most proponents’ reasoning is the video on Facebook where they let wolves loose in Yellowstone and the general ecosystem is rejuvenated. But then there’s us. We’re solely interested in seeing the most badass animals possible, so we thought we would — actual written, researched arguments accompanying — give a few suggestions as to what species we’d like to see brought back to the Rockies next.


BW: Sean and I are big fans of the bulbous, bright-breasted bird with habitat spanning the West. There aren’t a lot of rules on The Aspen Times copy desk, but one of them is that we make sure every story from The Associated Press, Denver Post or Colorado Sun about sage grouses makes it into our back pages. Mostly, I am completely for installing every mechanism possible in growing the sage grouse numbers, including a yuge wall around North Star, and removing them from the endangered list. So I can hunt them.

Don’t be alarmed; I’m not doing it for sport. I’m doing it so I can have a stuffed sage grouse above my fireplace. Taxidermy runs in my family, but last time I tried to mount an animal I got banned from Wagner Park. It’s astonishing how professionals make those corpses so lifelike, especially after I’ve blasted it to smithereens. How do they just have so many spare eyes, beaks and talons laying around in the shop? Now I’m definitely not going to consume any of that meat, gross.

While stalking the sage grouse, you can use a mating call to alert the birds to your location. First, pucker up, then squeeze your lips together like a tube of toothpaste while crying “hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy.” As a threatened species they are attracted to such poignant songs highlighting injustice.

I also propose fast-tracking sage grouse DNA into the lab program tasked with splicing new genes to recreate previously extinct animals. Ten-foot-tall flightless birds known as phorusrhacids used to roam the Earth, and I’d rather have a trophy of a fancy-plumage version of one of those. Instead of sitting on the mantle it can go right in the foyer, next to my rhinoceros tusk chandelier, pangolin vase and white tiger carpet.


SB: Why are we stopping at gray wolves? It’s time to return a little Darwinism to the Rockies. The only way to get people to respect nature is to let them get mauled and/or killed by it. No, that’s not the mushrooms kicking in, you damn Wookie, it’s a pack of rabid animals straight out of “Game of Thrones.” Maybe next time don’t attract the beasts with an endless stream of jam bands and beef jerky.

I’m not saying people who get lost trying to take shortcuts on fourteeners shouldn’t be rescued, I’m just saying if they happen to get picked off like a sick member of the herd in the time it takes Mountain Rescue to get in the field, the next person might not be so eager to veer from the path.

I understand wolves are harmful to livestock, but at the same time, we’ve been euthanizing pigs and cows for a few months now and I’m still finding ribs and steaks on the shelves.

Also, there would finally be a good reason to enforce the leash law. Your dog possibly getting ripped apart by dire wolves is definitely more incentive to keep it close than just appeasing hikers who “aren’t dog people.”

And there’s always the off chance of rescuing a litter of dire wolf pups, parsing them out between you and your siblings and raising them to be your personal body guards. That way, when the U.S. enacts to martial law following the November election, you have great but also free protection.


BW: Humans haven’t figured out when exactly the last Pokemon left our shores for the regions of Johto, Kanto and Galar. But who can argue that having our own Rolodex full of creatures to carry out our bidding, accomplish our chores and beat the shit out of each other for our amusement wouldn’t be beneficial? Pokemon have evolved quite a bit since the Red and Blue versions were released on Gameboy in 1998. We went from Charmander, a cute little fire-breathing lizard, to Klefki and Trubbish, which literally are a key ring with eyes and a pile of garbage with eyes, respectively. OK, then.

But if I could reintroduce any Pokemon to live alongside our modern species, I would choose Lapras. Basically a plesiosaur/Loch Ness Monster with a big shell on its back, Lapras would be a great companion to have along for any water-based activities, like pulling randos’ innertubes through Twin Lakes so I’m not forced to on my SUP.

Yes, the sea was angry that day, my friends. The waves buffeted me, my craft and the shirtless, shoeless guy I was playing Theodore Tugboat for. Eventually, the combination of choppy water, rowing against the current and imbalance from having an extra 230 pounds attached to me proved too much, and I tipped into the lake.

When you suddenly fall overboard, you have to concentrate on four actions at once: close your eyes, hold your breath, pinch your nose, don’t let go of the paddle, and start kicking upward in the direction you hope your paddleboard is. Oh, that was like five-and-a-half things. And that’s the predicament of capsizing: even when I’m sitting on my couch in a blankie and concentrating, I can barely remember what the steps are, let alone when freezing cold liquid fills your lungs as you gasp underwater and all your vision is green bubbles and the hot mermaids from “Goblet of Fire” staring back at you.

I manage to crawl back onboard, tie my soaked Old Glory headband around my paddle and, like George Washington crossing the Delaware, let out a mighty yell at Poseidon — part terror, part invigoration, part because I just watched “Full Metal Jacket” the night before.

And then up from the depths like a breaching sperm whale comes a sympathetic Lapras, gracefully towing us back to the beach where our friends have long been at safety, when otherwise we surely would have missed the shore by half a mile and been marooned on a shale of jagged rocks and I would have to crawl up in my flippy-floppies, exhausted legs and arms convulsing, to find the road and self-rescue. Whew, sure is a good thing that definitely didn’t happen.

With beer in hand, joint between lips and pals cheering me on, I reward the Lapras by throwing a Master Ball and catching the legendary monster! Big, stupid turtle, should have let me drown and join the mermaids. Now you’re just a house pet with superpowers and must show me affection or be trapped in this digital chamber forever. #Don’tCancelPokemon


SB: The brown bear derives its name from a football team in Chicago. They’re twice as awesome as black bears, as you can see by their massive size and claws, which are double the length (4 inches) of a black bear’s (2 inches).

The perception that they’re aggressive is often misguided as is evident in the nature documentary series “The Yogi Bear Show.” The bear’s enthusiasm for picnic baskets aside — rarely if ever did I see tourists at Jellystone use bear-proof containers — he had plenty of chances to maul and/or kill Ranger Smith but opted for more unconventional tactics.

Also, if we reintroduce wolves and brown bears, they’ll theoretically battle within the animal kingdom, thus sparing precious livestock with the bonus of possibly happening across a real bear vs. wolves showdowns. (I don’t have the betting odds for each ratio of wolves to bear matchup but the bear would be favored most of the time.)

I’m sick of these poorly animated Animal Planet reenactments. It’s not animal cruelty if two alpha predators come across each other in the wild; it’s just nature.

Hell, if Leo can survive an attack from a grizzly and an evil Tom Hardy in the 1800s, I’m 73% certain bear attacks will not end in death 100% of the time in 2020.

Have an animal you’d like to pitch? Think about it quietly in your head and keep it to yourself. sbeckwith@aspentimes.com bwelch@aspentimes.com

High Country: How to celebrate cannabis concentrates on ‘7/10 Day’ (and every day)

With 4/20 long designated as the annual holiday of cannabis, another date on the calendar has gained momentum in the post-legalization era: “7/10 Day” (intended to read as “oil” backwards). Also known as “Dab Day,” July 10 honors cannabis in its purest form. Imbibing in concentrates, extracts and oils is hardly a new method of consumption — in fact, it’s said to have been around (in some form) as early as the 1940s.

According to Merriam-Webster in a 2018 “Words We’re Watching” post, it is “the act of heating a sticky oil or wax of concentrated THC extracted from cannabis and inhaling the vapors.” To newcomers, the lexicon alone — from blow torches, nails and carb caps to rigs, bangers and mats — is pretty intimidating. But cannabis companies are increasingly designing products to make the entire process more user-friendly, with its reputation becoming deservingly less illicit.

Getting high, for those who want it to, can mean getting higher. Dabbing cannabis in any form is often criticized as having a stronger potency than smoking a joint, drawing health concerns as the popularity and accessibility continues to grow. But Green Dot Labs, the leading brand of concentrates in Colorado and the first company to focus solely on cultivation for its eponymous line of extracts, encourages the consumption of its products at lower temperatures “to maximize the taste and sensory experience without inducing excessive psychoactive effects.”

Whether you are a concentrates connoisseur or you’re curious about exploring a whole new world of weed, here, High Country breaks down the terminology* and shares a curated list of dabbing discoveries to take your next session to the next level.


Bubble Hash

Bubble hash is a cannabis concentrate comprising countless trichomes,
or resinous glands, that have been separated from the plant using ice water, agitation and a sieve. Its name come from the way that it bubbles when exposed to flame.

High Country pick: Dadirri Extracts Strawberry Cookies Bubble Hash, $39, dadirriextracts.com
Shop local: High Q, highqrockies.com

Courtesy Green Dot Labs


One of the many consistencies for cannabis concentrates, identified
by its malleable texture that looks and feels like cake frosting. Not
all budder looks the same, and the appearance depends on the starting material and methods of extraction.

High Country pick: Green Dot Labs Fuzzy Navel Black Label Live Badder, $45, greendotlabs.com
Shop local: Roots Rx, rootsrxstores.com

Live Rosin

The process, as well as the resulting concentrate, that is extracted from fresh cannabis plant material that was not dried or cured. This method is used to retain the terpenes that are lost during the drying and curing process. Products that have been extracted using the live process — freezing the cannabis plant material and extracting it — have been associated as the most high-quality and flavorful concentrates due to the amount of terpenes.

High Country pick: 710 Labs Banana Pie Live Rosin, $60, 710labs.com
Shop local: Best Day Ever, bestdayevercannabis.com

Willie’s Reserve

Oil Cartridge

A pre-filled container of cannabis oil or concentrate designed for use with a vape pen. “Carts” are offered in multiple formats, from 510-threaded cartridges that twist onto a battery to pods that magnetically snap into place. Pre-filled vape cartridges built with ceramic tanks run less of a risk of ruining the flavor, as they do not rely on a wick or metallic coil to vaporize the oil.

High Country pick: Willie’s Reserve Redheaded Stranger CO2 Distillate, $65, williesreserve.com
Shop local: Roots Rx, rootsrxstores.com

Courtesy 710 labs


The resulting concentrate when heat and pressure are applied to the cannabis plant. Rosin is a desirable technique because its concentration doesn’t require the use of external solvents. It can also be used to turn lower-grade hash into a concentrate that can be dabbed.

High Country pick: 710 Labs Persy Sauce, $90, 710labs.com
Shop local: Best Day Ever, bestdayevercannabis.com


A brittle, glasslike cannabis extract with a tendency to snap when handled. Shatter is named for its breakability and is favored for its ease in handling while dabbing. It requires long, delicate purging cycles to properly remove all solvents used in the manufacturing process.

High Country pick: Green Dot Labs Tahoe OG Shatter, $24.99, greendotlabs.com
Shop local: Green Dragon, greendragon.com


A term used for any concentrate that has a similar consistency to wet, sappy sugar. They’re not uniform in nature and typically have colors ranging from a bright yellow to a deep amber. Sugars are also typically enhanced with small crystals of THCa that create a more granular texture and enrich the flavor and aroma of the dabbing experience.

High Country pick: Summit Concentrates NYC Diesel Sugar, $24.95, summitstrains.com
Shop local: The Green Solution, tsgcolorado.com

Water Hash

A cannabis concentrate formed by sifting the trichomes of the cannabis plant in the presence of ice water. Ice hash, (commonly referred to as ice water hash, bubble hash, or wet sift)
is typically dabbed, but can also be used to add potency to flower. Ice hash should bubble when smoked.

High Country pick: LoCol Love Peach Sorbet Water Hash, $60, locol-love.com
Shop local: The Green Joint, thegreenjoint.com


Heat and pressure with no additional agitation is the key to premium
wax. This process results in the best retention of the terpenes, flavor and highest quality final product.

High Country pick: Kush Masters Peachy Williams Wax, $30, kushmasters.com
Shop local: The Green Joint, thegreenjoint.com

*Definitions edited from WeedMaps


Higher Standards Heavy Duty Glass Rig
Courtesy Higher Standards

Higher Standards Heavy Duty Rig

Engineered specifically for the water filtration of concentrates, this durable, medical-grade borosilicate glass rig has been handcrafted for powerful, reliable performance, and features a quartz banger for optimal flavor transfer. With slits on its diffused stem that create fine bubbles for a smooth draw, the Heavy Duty Rig boasts superior airflow and an airtight seal. $180, gethigherstandards.com

Courtesy G Pen

G Pen Roam

Seamlessly combining design with advanced technology, the G Pen Roam preserves the experience of traditional dabbing while on the go. Optimized to the user’s preference, it heats up within seconds to deliver the best flavor. $249.95, gpen.com

Puffco Peak

This sleek, smart device unlocks the true power of concentrates, providing the purest expression of the potency, flavor and effects of the cannabis plant. As one of the most efficient and clean dabbing devices on the market, there’s also a minimal learning curve. $379.99, puffco.com

Courtesy 710 Labs

710 Labs Pen

The most potent vaporizer pen and pod combo is also the cleanest; 710 Labs only uses medical-grade materials with no chance of heavy metal effecting the cannabis concentrate you’re consuming. 710 Labs pods are sold separately (locally at Best Day Ever) and formulated with a high-terpene fraction of its proprietary live resin extract. $20, 710labs.com

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.

Mountain Mayhem: Fun on the Fourth

While this year’s Fourth of July was noticeably different with missing traditions from the Boogie’s Buddy Race (which went virtual this year) to the Old Fashioned Parade to the Aspen Music Festival concert at the Music Tent, several holiday staples were still in place: shiny red fire trucks parked out front at the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, picnics in parks, a steady stream of muscle cars and motorcycles cruising through town and even longtime local Mike Tierney festively dressed and spinning the streets on his unicycle. Hotels and restaurants were humming with business. The Limelight Hotel Aspen offered drink specials and live music with Stevie Lizard in the lounge. Hotel Jerome’s courtyard offered an airy and spacious outdoor setting to enjoy the afternoon. Kemo Sabe’s outdoor seating area with its hay bales and blankets served as the perfect spot for people watching into the evening. All in all, it seemed the quieter, more relaxed 4th was still fun in its own right.

Hand-rolled and home-baked in Aspen: Bam! Bagels! is on a roll

When businesses and schools shut down this past spring, Avery Lieb got fired up. Instead of simply researching a “passion project” to present via video to her seventh-grade class as independent study during the pandemic’s stay-at-home order, Lieb turned on the oven in her family’s kitchen. Her gut feeling was to start baking.

“I knew I wanted to make a bagel business,” Lieb says matter-of-factly, while prepping a batch of orders for Bam! Bagels! last week. “I love baking, and there aren’t very many good bagel shops in Aspen. I like how they’re bread, but little and cute.”

Inspired by visits to her maternal grandmother in New York City, where she tasted the real deal, and using a recipe made over the years by her father, an energy consultant with a background in baking, Lieb got to work. A happy accident early on led to her current formula, a simple ratio of organic flour, two types of malt, salt, and Aspen tap water. Oh, and a big spoonful of 100-year-old sourdough starter that her dad scooped up in Italy some 20 years ago. “That’s important because it helps the dough rise,” Lieb notes. The result: beautifully puffed bagels that satisfy a craving.

Lieb began her school project by building a website: BamBagels.com. There she launched a blog to explore interesting bagel topics and share facts learned during her research. Among them: Why bagels have holes, who invented the bagel, regional differences in bagels, and a cost analysis that breaks down why she charges $3 per bagel. She also discovered that her paternal great-grandparents owned a bakery in Johannesburg, South Africa, long ago.

“That was mostly for the school project,” says Lieb, explaining that she was required to weave in subjects such as math, science, history, art and language. “But now I think it’s nice, because people know what they’re buying.” (To fulfill the latter requirement, Lieb translated her shopping page to accept orders in Spanish.)

When I arrive at 8 a.m. to see Lieb’s home-baked operation, she’s in a groove. The tough part is done already. At 3 p.m. the day before she mixed the dough, which rested 30 minutes before kneading. Then she covered the bowl for three hours of bulk fermentation. Once portioned, 18- to 20-gram dough balls rest again in long proofing boxes, stored inside a car in the cool garage overnight, which slows fermentation so the dough doesn’t rise too much in 12 hours.

Now Lieb shows me how she hand-shapes the hole in each inflated orb of dough. She slips the bagels into a big pot of boiling water, where they cook about 30 seconds per side, before transferring them to burlap-covered baking boards. (A splash of water on the fabric prevents dough from sticking and creates steam.) Midway through the bake, Lieb flips the bagels onto a hot baking stone, which helps offset heat loss from constantly opening the oven door.

Lieb, who turned 13 in May, moves around the small kitchen in what looks like a choreographed dance. Wearing a mask, she is alternately pressing a timer, sprinkling spoonfuls of seed mixture onto Everything bagels, rinsing off baking boards, and transferring puffed, golden orbs to cooling racks. Her notebook order log indicates how many bagels to wrap in each brown paper bag, tied with ribbon and a brand-new business card. She’ll deliver some by bicycle; the rest will go into a cooler on her front porch for socially distanced customer pickup.

Lieb sold her first batch of Bam! Bagels!—available in Plain, Everything, and Cinnamon-Raisin—on May 3. Social media and word of mouth have drawn enough buzz that Lieb has recruited her 10-year-old sister as official helper and taste-tester. Everyone agrees that Lieb’s chewy, New York-style bagels are in a class of their own here in Aspen. When neighbor and Olympic ski racer Wiley Maple posted about her bagels on Instagram, orders surged.

“It’s a lot of work, so to have people love it is necessary to keep it up,” says Lieb’s mother, Kim Master, a coffee fanatic who launched her own “elaborate passion project,” Red Butte Roasters, in 2015. “Everyone has been so supportive. It gives her—and our whole family—a deeper sense of connection with the community.”

By focusing on quality control of a single item, Lieb has been able to adapt to challenges (flour shortages during corona) and let positive feedback fuel Bam! Bagels!

“She’s kept it simple,” Masters says. “It’s hard to go wrong when you have an amazing bread product.”


Pop-Up Sculpture Garden: Anderson Ranch installs 17 artworks on Snowmass campus

Beautiful, relaxing, surprising and as social distancing-friendly as a walk in the park, the new sculpture exhibition at Anderson Ranch Arts Center is an art show made for our moment.

The show opened quietly Monday, July 6, without the usual receptions and fanfare that would attend this kind of happening. But it is a momentous undertaking: 17 sculptures installed across the campus from a mix of internationally renowned and Aspen area artists, from art stars like Sanford Biggers and Enrique Martinez Celaya to valley-based legends like James Surls and Nancy Lovendahl.

The work will remain on view through September 2021.

“This sculpture installation is one of the most exciting changes to the Ranch campus in years,” Ranch President and CEO Peter Waanders said, “providing a new and fresh way of exploring and experiencing this amazing gem of a campus. In the middle of COVID-19, it was so important to us that we find a way to keep the community and visitors engaged with the Ranch, art and art-making. We wanted to create an experience that people enjoy on their own while maintaining physical distancing”

In the weeks leading up to the opening, installation turned the Ranch into a creative construction zone, with backhoes and diggers and cranes sliding all the pieces into place. The works range from the whimsical to the topical, from Charmaine Locke’s six-armed “open book” figure to Paula Crown’s polished aluminum clouds, Jaime Carrejo’s incisive monument made of cage fence to a piece from Sanford Biggers’ of-the-moment “BAM” series which confronts police killings of Black men in the U.S.

The exhibition was curated by Lissa Ballinger, now the Ranch’s director of exhibitions and sales. Along with the artists mentioned above, the show includes works by Ghada Amer, David Kimball Anderson, Ajax W. Axe, Mark Cesark, John Clement, Trey Hill, Richard Lapedes and Brad Reed Nelson.


Nicola Lees, new director of the Aspen Art Museum, leading through the coronavirus crisis

The Aspen Art Museum announced the appointment of Nicola Lees as its new director March 11, seemingly just moments before the U.S. tipped into the crisis period of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was that night that the NBA canceled its season and Tom Hanks announced he’d contracted the virus and the new reality began to take hold. Lees, who was then director and curator of New York University’s contemporary art space 80 Washington East Gallery (80WSE), closed that gallery the following day. The Aspen Art Museum closed two days later. The long period of stay-home orders, public health restrictions and economic free-fall followed.

Four months later, the Aspen Art Museum has opened its doors again. And Lees is on the job here.

She is taking the reins during a historically challenging time for arts organizations around the world. Institutions are facing existential budget crunches and questions of health and safety, while being challenged to rethink their very missions, how they carry out basic functions, how they serve a public without mass gatherings.

“It’s been an interesting time to come into a new leadership role,” Lees, a London native, said with almost comical understatement, speaking from behind a facemask in early July at a table in the museum’s rooftop sculpture garden, beside Maren Hassinger’s wire rope installation “Nature, Sweet Nature.”

The museum opened to the public July 1 following the state-mandated closure. Admission is still free but reservations are required, as the number of total visitors is limited, while facemasks are required and assigned foot traffic patterns are enforced. The opening unveiled the Rose Wylie painting show “where i am and was,” Kelly Akashi’s sculpture “Cultivator” and the Hessenger piece, while also reopening exhibitions of paintings by Lisa Yuskavage and Oscar Murillo. All of the shows have been extended through fall amid the public health crisis.

Rose Wylie’s solo exhibition “where i am and was,” which was installed in the Aspen Art Museum in March, opened the public for the first time on July 1 when the musuem was allowed to open by health officials.
Courtesy photo

Lees’ job description didn’t include public health expertise or expectations of handling a pandemic. She is focused now on figuring out how to lead the museum through a transformed world and how best to serve artists and the public through the uncertain future ahead.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, where Lees was a curator from 2008 to 2013, said Lees is poised to meet the demands of this most challenging situation.

“Nicola is brave enough to be truly interdisciplinary and her experimental approach goes far beyond existing boundaries to envision new realities, something which so urgently needs to be addressed now more than ever before,” Obrist said in an email.

Lees’ start date was April 1, but she could not travel to Aspen until June due to the crisis. She carried out her duties in her first months on the job remotely and digitally — much museum business will continue virtually for the foreseeable future — and included decisions like canceling the annual ArtCrush gala, extending current exhibitions into the fall, moving education programs online and doing a round of permanent layoffs for full-time staff.

The ArtCrush gala has raised between $2 million and $3 million annually for the museum in recent years, and provided a significant portion of the museum’s $7 million annual budget.

Losing ArtCrush meant cutting expenses, which — along with the logistical restrictions brought on by the pandemic — will impact exhibitions. Lees suggested that might mean fewer shows with longer runs or possibly multi-year commissions for artists to do multiple projects with the museum. Operating costs like international shipping have been among the budget items trimmed in recent months.

“I don’t think it’s going to make it less dynamic or less energetic, but we’re going to have to be smart about it,” she said of the exhibition budget.

Hectic as it may seem, the physical quiet of quarantine has been an opportunity, Lees believes.

“Even though there’s been a huge amount going on, it has also been a moment of reflection,” Lees said.

Lees and the institution have had to rethink the role of a museum, staging events on Instagram and a virtual exhibition with its Young Curators program, while preparing to give artists a space to interpret the present moment and giving the public a place to interact safely with art.

“The conversation in many ways is around this idea of a new intentionality,” Lees said, noting how much more thought people must put into basic day-to-day tasks and interactions during the pandemic, and how that is translating to institutions like museums and, perhaps, a new age of thoughtful leadership.

Curatorial signatures of the Aspen Art Museum — like giving artists museum debuts and spotting the hottest new talent — are also under reconsideration.

“This idea of the newest or the first may be a framework that in the COVID era is maybe not so urgent,” she said.

So what is urgent?

“Building relationships, being collaborative, building communities, thinking about how we can do things together and share resources,” she said.

To that end, Lees is planning to bring more curators’ voices and perspectives into the museum, with contributors who might include guest curators or new positions like curators-at-large.

From her first days on the job, Lees has been joining weekly calls among Aspen’s arts leaders. These meetings are new to Aspen’s arts and culture organization. Lees arrived on the local scene at a moment of unprecedented openness and collaboration for Aspen’s cultural sector.

“We’ve all been thinking about how we can be hyperlocal and how we can meet this shift in the world and how people are experiencing their lives,” Lees said. “At the same time, the whole thing with Aspen is that everyone has a global and international program. … You have these pillars of Aspen, the Institute and the Music Festival as the oldest institutions and now this amazing web of film and theater and literature — all coming together.”

Lees was drawn to this museum, in part, by the intellectual and cultural history of Aspen. She knew artists loved coming here, loved working with the museum. She’d heard details from the likes of Lutz Bacher and Oscar Murillo during their exhibitions here.

She was also curious about the alpinist culture of Colorado. Lees was a mountaineer as a teenager, when she traveled to climb around Europe, South America and Africa — she summitted Mount Kenya — and she is hoping to rekindle that adventuresome lifestyle.

Lees met with Aspen Skiing Co. leaders for the first time last week and is hoping to find ways to collaborate, whether by reviving the acclaimed Art in Unexpected Places public art partnership or on new projects.

“The legacy of that (Art in Unexpected Places) program was one of the attractions of coming here,” she said of the program, which ran from 2006 to 2017 and hosted on-mountain installations and happenings like Yutaka Sone rolling massive dice down the Buttermilk halfpipe and Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Black Lightning” daytime firework over Aspen Mountain.

Lees is not an art world celebrity; she’s not a splashy big-name hire for the Aspen Art Museum. But the breadth and variety of her experience in the art world seem to put her in a position to succeed under the unusual microscope of Aspen, where cultural leaders are subject to both small-town battles and the scrutiny of the international spotlight.

Like the Aspen Art Museum, 80WSE is admission-free, nonprofit and focuses on contemporary work. Lees’ exhibitions there included Bacher, John Giorno and Louise Lawler. Before that, Lees served as a curator at the Frieze Foundation, London’s Serpentine Gallery and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

For Frieze Projects London she curated dozens of site-specific installations from artists including Cerith Wyn Evans and Kim Gordon.

Nicola Lees photographed in Rodeo Gallery, London
Polskey/Courtesy photo

At Serpentine, where she was senior curator of public programs from 2008 to 2013, her focus was decidedly multi-disciplinary. It included presenting the massive public art projects and live performance for the Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park, curating the gallery’s “Ideas Marathon” series and the Serpentine Cinema. Lees also curated the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts in 2015 in Slovenia.

Obrist, the Serpentine director, praised Lees as “someone with a strong vision but who is also generous with her time and energy, especially in platforming and supporting young and emerging artistic practice.”

That mix of experience was among the assets cited by the museum board upon Lees’ appointment in March, after a nearly nine-month search for a new director.

“Nicola is an energetic, innovative and visionary institutional leader and her knowledge of and passion for contemporary art is evident through a host of ambitious and globally relevant large-scale exhibitions and projects featuring many of the most important established and emerging artists of our time,” read a statement from board of trustees members John Phelan, Amnon Rodan and Paul Pariser upon the announcement of her appointment.

Lees follows longtime director Heidi Zuckerman at the helm of the museum. Zuckerman led the museum for 14 years and spearheaded the effort to build its downtown Shigeru Ban-designed facility, which opened in 2014, while making the museum a player in the international contemporary art scene and launching initiatives including ArtCrush and Art in Unexpected Places. Her tenure also included a wide expansion of the museum’s education and access programs, which in 2017 earned the museum the National Medal for Museum and Library Services.

A new learning director, Rachel Ropeik, formerly of the Guggenheim Museum, came aboard about a month before Lees did at the museum to oversee those vaunted education programs. She and Lees are shepherding them into the post-coronavirus world.

The museum hasn’t shown Aspen-based or Colorado-based artists since it moved into the downtown museum, though programs for local artists — including critic sessions and fellowships — have grown. Were it not for the public health crisis, Lees would have been doing studio visits and getting to know the area’s artists this spring.

“The museum is here for the community,” Lees said of the institution’s relationship with locally based artists. “We want to work out how we can embed that more in the structure of what we’re doing. It’s going to take more time to find the best approach so that everyone feels included.”

One project Lees already spearheaded is artist Jonathan Berger’s reimagining of the museum shop, which she said will be inspired by Manhattan’s legendary Little Rickie’s and will include a curated collection of things local, regional and international.

The months since Lees’ appointment may have been a whirlwind. But now that the doors of the museum are open again and she is inside, it’s time to get to work.

“I had a really clear vision from afar,” Lees said, “but now I’m here and it’s really now a time to have conversations about how we can grow together, build relationships, build communities. That’s going to be a process.”


Aspen History: Big Sweet Pea Show

“The First Sweet Pea!” proclaimed a headline in the Aspen Democrat-Times on June 22, 1921. “Here we are with the first sweet pea on exhibition in our front window and the Sweet Pea Exhibition Committee awards the first prize to Mrs. H.I. Elrod, the lady who plucked the blossom this morning from her flower garden, 501 Mill Street. The committee, H.G. Koch, E.C. Groscurth and Julius Zupancis, has awarded Mrs. Elrod the first prize for producing the first sweet pea blossom and placing it on exhibition in the “Fair” window of the Democrat-Times. Now let’s keep things moving for the Big Sweet Pea Show to be held in Aspen late this summer.” This image shows a woman standing next to blooming sweet peas, 1908.

Follow the music for free ice cream on the Fourth of July in Snowmass Village

Aspen’s annual parade is canceled. Fireworks ain’t happening. And the legendary outdoor barbecue where I might tend bar for hours and serve 400-plus friends, acquaintances and smiling strangers is but a distant memory from more social times in 2019. Since most treasured opportunities for fun and revelry are on hold this summer in Aspen, I’m heading to Snowmass for the Fourth of July. At least there will be free ice cream!

On Saturday, July 4, Snowmass Tourism will launch the first-ever “Ice Cream Anti-Social,” a concept born in the spirit of American tradition while upholding social distancing orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. When our new reality made clear that a community concert and celebration in Base Village would not be possible due to restrictions on public gatherings, tourism director Rose Abello pivoted to an endeavor that will take merriment to the people instead: drive-by ice cream delivery.

“The easiest answer (would have been) to say it’s canceled,” Abello said of Independence Day festivities. “Instead we’re challenging ourselves and our event producer partners to see if we can figure it out.”

Abello’s team secured a refrigerated truck from Aspen Skiing Co., commissioned custom signage, and placed an order for 4,000 prepackaged ice cream treats from Clark’s Market. They acquired necessary PPE, signed on drivers, and mapped a route designed to hit every residence, hotel and rental property in Snowmass Village throughout the day. Now folks stuck mostly at home will have something to get excited about.

“My theme this summer: shift happens!” Abello says. “We thought: What parts of the Fourth of July community celebration can we embrace? What parts can still happen? Let’s give them dessert! This is a fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July in a crazy COVID era.”

The logistics of such a mission required some finagling. Most important, Abello says, was making sure that the operation would be inclusive. The team decided against publishing a time-specific route map; instead, approximate stop times are listed on the Snowmass Tourism website event page (see sidebar).

“I talked to some moms and the idea that we tell them, it’s a huge window (of time that) is a nightmare for children,” Abello says, with a laugh. “So, we’ll give guidance on neighborhoods, time blocks, and places to park that are centrally located.”

The truck’s 12-mile journey will span four or five hours. A patriotic playlist will pump from a speaker system mounted on the outside of the truck, which is wrapped in a cheeky illustration of Uncle Sam wearing a mask and holding a melting ice cream cone. (How one consumes an ice cream cone while wearing a mask remains unclear; however, those seeking ice cream must wear a mask to receive a freebie.)

Historically, Snowmass Tourism contracted with Aspen Skiing Co.’s catering and events department and The Sled, a mobile food truck that in wintertime is pulled via snowcat to various on-mountain locations at Snowmass. As the group is ever mindful of sharing space with area restaurants vying for holiday dollars (and the reason why it has opted against a public cookout in years past), The Sled offered free apple pie, strawberry shortcake, and ice cream bars for visitors to enjoy during DJ sets, concerts, and the fireworks display. Now, an ice cream truck crawling the streets of Snowmass dovetails smoothly with pressing concerns about customer contact and food contamination: individually wrapped ice cream snacks, doled out by a dude in a hazmat suit, seems air-tight in terms of safety.

On July 4, the Ice Cream Anti-Social truck will dispense four classic choices: Choco Tacos; red-white-and-blue Bomb Pops; chocolate ice cream sandwiches; and orange Push-Up Pops. These products hark to America’s original ice cream truck, invented in 1920 by Harry Burt, creator of the Good Humor brand. His motorized vehicle in Youngstown, Ohio, was the first to deliver ice cream, and soon, chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick (the Good Humor bar), which was easier and cleaner to sell (and eat) on-the-go.

Though many ice cream parlors were forced to close as “luxury” experiences were pushed off the table during the Great Depression, cheap-to-run ice cream trucks survived and even thrived. Post-World War II, ice cream companies boomed (both of my grandfathers were in the business of ice cream) and the ice cream truck as American icon gained even more traction.

Perhaps coolest for Snowmass: this Ice Cream Anti-Social represents the first crusade. Snowmass Town Clerk Rhonda Coxon confirms that Snowmass Village has never had a dedicated ice cream truck en route since the ski area opened in 1967 (and the town was incorporated in 1977). While many other Snowmass summer events remain in limbo, July 4 is a go: Listen for the music.

“We’re ice cream pioneers,” Abello quips, making crystal clear that optimism guides this novel operation, much like the familiar friendly jingle most of us have heard at some point during childhood. “Let’s keep this tradition of providing sweet treats alive…and keep your party at your house.”