Aspen remembers artist Betty Weiss
December 5, 2015
A bouquet of white roses sat at the open door to Betty Weiss' Red Brick Center for the Arts studio on Thursday night. Friends, artists and patrons stopped in to pay their respects. They left notes of remembrance and looked over her creative home of 20 years — her paint and brushes on a table beside a work in progress, canvases stacked against the walls, cut paper ready to be collaged. Outside, the gallery hosted its monthly "First Thursday" art opening, at which Weiss had been a fixture.
Weiss, a prolific artist and champion for the arts in Aspen, died Monday at age 90.
"Betty has been an icon in our resident artist program," Red Brick Director Angie Callen wrote in a tribute, "giving other artists someone to look up to as a mentor in business, in life and in art."
Weiss came to Aspen initially as a visitor from Chicago in the 1960s, then as a part-time resident in the '70s, eventually making Aspen her full-time home in the early 1990s.
"She was a shining star and a real beacon for people because of her commitment to art — both her own and other people's," said local artist and curator Tom Ward.
Ward knew Weiss for more than 40 years. He often helped hang her shows, and exhibited her work frequently at the Aspen Chapel Gallery, where he is co-director. Ward also was among the countless artists who Weiss took under her wing: He recalled Weiss hosting and feeding him often in the 1970s when he was a starving bachelor running the Gargoyle Gallery downtown.
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"Every time I saw her work, it was always something different," Ward said. "I knew a lot of people doing collage, but nobody doing it quite the way she did."
Weiss worked mostly in acrylics, crafting abstracts in collages of paint and paper.
"I don't think of myself when I'm doing it," Weiss told The Aspen Times in 2008. "I'm just thinking of something I needed to say. But it's not writing a letter or a song or a poem. I use color or motion to express myself. I turn to a canvas to find my words."
Also a staunch philanthropic supporter of local nonprofits, Weiss served on the board of the Aspen Valley Medical Center and as a fellow at the Aspen Institute. Weiss was a nearly ubiquitous presence on the Aspen arts scene, spending time as a board member at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, the Aspen Art Museum and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Soon after Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Mossbrucker came to town to start the ballet company in 1994, Weiss heard music coming from their dance studio in the Red Brick and popped in to introduce herself.
"We told her we were starting a ballet company, and Betty said, 'How can I help?" Malaty recalled.
She became one of the upstart's first board members and remained one of its stalwart supporters as Aspen Santa Fe Ballet grew to international prominence — never missing a performance, traveling with the company to France on one of its early tours, even painting the 12-by-9-foot backdrop for the 1999 performance of "Purple Bend I" (in her 70s, she also took tap dance classes with Mossbrucker).
She was in the ballet studio at Colorado Mountain College as recently as Nov. 27, watching the company's cast of "The Nutcracker" rehearse.
When they received word of her death Monday, Malaty and Mossbrucker made calls to inform the choreographers around the world who had befriended her.
"She always entertained them, got to know them," he said. "She meant a lot to them and to all of us."
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