Citing COVID-19 economic struggles, historic Toklat Gallery will close after 70-plus years

The Toklat Gallery in Basalt will close business this summer, ending a 71-year run for the Mace family’s business that traces its roots to the founding of modern Aspen.

“I powered through the Great Recession and then again through the Great Fire and have neither the stamina nor the wish to power through the Great Virus,” owner Lynn Mace wrote in a gallery newsletter. “That is because I foresee no end to the economic, social, and cultural upheaval brought forth by the COVID-19.”

Mace plans to close the gallery at the end of June, she said Friday. Her lease on the gallery space runs through July. She is hoping to stage a public exhibition about her family’s local history at the gallery in July.

She is currently selling all of Toklat’s inventory of artwork in the shop — open noon to 7 p.m. — as well as online. Mace in recent weeks has been circulating a Dropbox link with photos of everything that’s up for sale from Toklat.

The gallery’s storied past as a wilderness lodge, restaurant and dog-sledding operation is intertwined with the birth of Aspen as a resort after World War II.

Lynne’s parents, 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 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.

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 running dog-sled rescue operations during World War II.

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

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.

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.

Through all the evolutions of Toklat, hand-crafted art was a constant, from her father’s photography and marquetry to the paintings, furniture and woodworks in the gallery today.

The Maces 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.”

In 1993, Lynne Mace returned home from Connecticut to manage Toklat. The historic Ashcroft building and land, which the Maces had a lifetime lease on from the Ryan family, was sold to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies — of which her father was a founding board member — in 2005. Lynne Mace then moved the gallery to Basalt.

As she prepares to close Toklat for good, Mace said that her family artifacts will remain on view at the new Catto Center at Ashcroft including dog sleds, furniture and stained glass and copper pieces from the original Toklat building.