After 10 years of digging, Aspen gallerist unveils collection of historic maps and photographs
IF YOU GO …
What: Antique mining maps and photo show
Where: Valley Fine Art
When: Opening Friday, Feb. 15, 5 to 9 p.m.
More info: Historian Larry Fredrick will give a talk on the Aspen mining boom Friday at 6 p.m.; ‘Early Aspen’ author Douglas Beck will give a talk Saturday at 5 p.m.; valleyfineart.com
Mia Valley has spent the past 10 years digging for rare visual representations of her hometown’s rich history.
The gallerist and lifelong Aspenite is now unveiling what she’s found, with an exhibition at her downtown art gallery that transports viewers to Aspen’s mining days. Opening Friday, the exhibition includes rare 19th-century maps of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, blueprints of the original townsite, mining stock certificates signed by B. Clark Wheeler himself, photographs of the town and its people during the silver mining boom along with hundreds of historic postcards.
The show offers a visual tour of Aspen in the 1880s.
Valley, whose gallery is best known for dealing works by western photographer Edward S. Curtis, has spent the past decade hunting for these treasures. When she found a pristine collection of rare maps by Aspen’s boom-era surveyor John H. Marks, she knew it was time to put it all together for an exhibition.
“That’s how the show was born,” she said. “Once I got those maps I said, ‘Oh, I have to do something here.’”
Marks served as the U.S. deputy mineral surveyor for Aspen from 1888 to 1891. His job was to provide accurate maps for mining claims. His work at the Valley show includes two pristine maps of every mining claim on Aspen Mountain (the only other known set is in the Aspen Historical Society’s collection), blueprints of the original Aspen townsite and a hand-drawn color map of the Roaring Fork Valley’s ranches. It includes Marks’ maps covering a controversial series of “placer claims” — attempts to claim land based on deposit minerals, like gold, that are not fixed in place — made in an attempt to grab land along the Roaring Fork River in the early 1880s.
The centerpiece of the show is an original 14-foot-long survey map by Marks that covers the whole swath of the upper Roaring Fork Valley. Unframed, it runs across a wall at the gallery surveying everything from Aspen to Woody Creek.
“There is so much to learn just by looking at this,” Valley said Tuesday during a walk through the exhibition.
Over the past decade, she has amassed this collection by seeking out collectors, private archives and estate sales.
“It’s about digging,” Valley explained. “It’s a tremendous amount of work, but that’s part of the fun for me — the hunt.”
Valley intends to keep the material up through March, though she’ll be rotating it off the walls in coming days as this historical material sells off.
Among the photographs in this recently unveiled collection is an incredible shot of a scuba diver on Smuggler Mountain, preparing to descend into the flooded mine. The show also includes late 19th-century photographs of a train junction in what is now Basalt, a photo of a locomotive crossing the Maroon Creek Bridge, a shot of tenants on the porch of an Aspen boarding house, the view of town from Aspen Mountain when it was a sparsely developed mining camp, a shot of the heavy industrial operations at the Mollie Gibson mine and landscape shots of Aspen Mountain by William Henry Jackson.
Items in the show range in price from $45,000 for mint condition historic maps to a ski bum-friendly $10 to $65 for some of the antique postcards.
Valley is aiming the show at anyone interested in Aspen history, not just at big-money collectors. Inspired by the historic material, this week she hosted Aspen Times columnist Tony Vagneur for a talk on ranching and mining in Aspen’s early days and the Aspen Historical Society’s Nina Gabianelli for a talk on prostitution during the silver boom.
Friday’s opening will include a 6 p.m. talk by Larry Frederick, who researched John H. Marks for the Aspen Historical Society. The opening will also double as a benefit for the Historical Society; Valley is donating 10 percent of the day’s sales to the nonprofit.
The show is at the center of Aspen’s busy blue-chip slate of President’s Day gallery openings, a lineup that also includes new exhibitions at the Baldwin Gallery (Peter Coffin and Genieve Figgis), Boesky West (Hugo Franca and Thiago Rocha Pitta), Aspen Art Gallery (Tyler Sean) and Opera Gallery (Olivia Diane and Kinga Czerska).
As word started getting around about the show this week as Valley hung her show, she has been getting flooded by phone calls and visitors. After a decade of collecting this material, she is proud to share it.
“We have such a rich history in Aspen,” Valley said. “Whether you live here or have a second home or you’re just visiting, everybody is fascinated by it.”
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.