‘Small Wonders’ and Red Brick holiday art sale give Aspen area artists a boost
The annual “Small Wonders” exhibition art sale at the Aspen Chapel Gallery is soldiering through its 15th year, though in this year of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it won’t be the festive kickoff to the winter season that locals have come to know.
“Small Wonders” showcases work by local artists, all of it measuring no larger than 12 square inches for affordable prices (most under $200). A popular launch to the holiday shopping season and a beloved annual party, the event is among few remaining venues for budget-friendly original art in the Aspen area.
The 2020 version opens to the public on Friday. Amid the ongoing pandemic, social distancing and masks are required. And while there is diverse art on the walls from 30 Aspen area artists, the gallery won’t host its usual opening bash.
“We cannot do the community part,” said gallery co-director Michael Bonds during walk-through on Tuesday. “We can’t do the things we did in the past. But we are just trying to go with the flow and not have huge expectations.”
The Aspen Chapel Gallery re-opened this summer with directional tape on the floor to encourage distancing as well as new track lighting to better showcase the artwork in this long-running nonprofit gallery. It hosted exhibitions without receptions since, but it was unclear if they could pull off “Small Wonders.”
“We sat down with all of our curators and asked, ‘How can we do “Small Wonders” and keep it safe?’” co-director Tom Ward recalled.
What they came up with was doing reservation-only visits for three full days, allowing eager buyers a first look at the work. From there, beginning Friday, Nov. 20, the gallery will be open to the public with limits on the number of visitors inside at one time. The gallery is also booking private visits throughout the run for anyone who wants to visit without sharing air with other shoppers.
“We are getting phone calls and reservations,” Bonds said, as three visitors perused the show during Tuesday’s preview hours.
“Small Wonders” is the biggest annual undertaking for the nonprofit Chapel Gallery and over the past decade-and-a-half it has become one of the most popular grassroots hyper-local art events on the Aspen calendar. In past years, hanging the work is a party in itself with all the exhibiting artists collaborating with curators and gallery directors to hang hundreds of pieces in the intimate showroom.
The opening reception has consistently drawn hundreds of people. Its packed house, food spreads and flowing wine have made it an season-opening party as well as an art show and holiday shopping event. It’s typically the first big art event of a busy season that runs through the new year in Aspen.
There will be no such party this year, due to the pandemic. Sales are expected to dip significantly as a result. The first sale from the exhibition this week came via Instragram rather than in-person. The gallery has ramped up its online exhibition and sales capability for the show.
“We know we re not going to match what we did in the past,” Bonds said. “We are not going to have 300 people at the opening and that festive feeling that ‘Small Wonders’ brings.”
That reception has also traditionally provided a boost to local families in need. The show is hosted in partnership with the volunteer-run Holiday Baskets program has supplies food and gifts for some 250 Roaring Fork Valley families in need. It allows people to “adopt” families and provide the gifts they request for the holiday season. Visitors to “Small Wonders” can sign up to adopt a family in the gallery.
The 2020 “Small Wonders” show runs concurrently with the annual holiday art sale at the Red Brick Center for the Arts in Aspen, which showcases work by its 12 resident artists for the shopping season. A cash-and-carry show in the “Small Wonders” mold, the works there showcase ceramics and vases, abstract and representational painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture and jewelry design.
A handful of Red Brick resident artists – Bonds, ceramicists Liz Heller and Molly Peacock and painters Emily Chaplin and Mindy Vernon– are in both shows, which together offer a cross-section of the styles and trends among Aspen’s working artists.
The “Small Wonders” pieces include Bonds’ own mugs with aspen leafs and skiers carved into them, along with ceramic vessels by Louis Deroualle, David Floria, Diane Light and Molly Peacock.
Plein air and local landscapes are well-represented as always: in Curt Carpenter’s winter scene wood cuts, Emily Chaplin’s oil paintings of fall scenes and Mindy Vernon’s abstracted ones, Amy Beidleman and Stephanie McConaughy’s watercolor mountainscapes and Holly Gresset’s in vivid oil.
Roaring Fork Valley birding expert Mark Fuller is selling color photos of locally spotted birds and De De Brinkman has made a new series of 5-by-7 iPhone photo transfers.
Bonds noted that 2020 saw the emergence of some new and significant sculptural work in “Small Wonders,” once a painting-loaded show. Sculptures from 2020 range from Nicole Gogolack’s gouache and resin works on cypress wood to Sandy Johnson’s new paper clay pieces to Sam Louras’s wall-mounted assemblages.
It is also marks a debut for some young emerging artists, including recent high school graduates like photographer Leif Mosher and sculptor Evan Magill—both showing at “Small Wonders” for the first time.
“They are just coming into their own and just starting to show,” said Ward. “That’s really exciting.”
And while the exhibition may be downbeat compared to previous years, Bonds noted it is an opportunity to support local working artists who – like just about everyone – have been impacted by the virus-bred economic crisis and recession. Carrying them through the holiday season is a key part of the gallery mission right now.
“This is 30 small businesses that are open and that people can support right here,” he said. “We are trying to get money back into their pockets. That is important to us.”
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