Toklat Gallery celebrates 70 years of Aspen, Ashcroft and Basalt history
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Seven Decades of Toklat Gallery’ celebration and artists’ reception
Where: Toklat Gallery, Basalt
When: Friday, Jan. 11, 5-8 p.m.
More info: toklatgallery.com
Every once in a while at her Toklat Gallery in Basalt, Lynne Mace meets a stranger with a link to the family gallery’s storied past as a wilderness lodge, restaurant and dog-sledding operation.
“One of my greatest joys is when someone comes in and says, ‘Oh, my parents took me on a dog sled trip there when I was a kid!’” Mace said on a recent afternoon at the gallery, as Mace and her two pet dogs — Li Wu and Harper — prepared for a big party.
Toklat is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2019, beginning with an artists’ reception and exhibition today. It will include the unveiling the massive new oil painting “Legends of Ashcroft,” by local artist Veryl Goodnight, depicting the Mace family’s legendary huskies pulling a dogsled in the Castle Creek Valley.
Goodnight is among 16 artists whose work Mace is spotlighting as she kicks off a yearlong anniversary celebration at the Basalt gallery. Lynne’s late father, the Toklat founder Stuart Mace, also has photographs in the show, along with a diverse collection of wildlife sculptures, marquetry, jewelry, furniture and paintings.
“This is a great convergence of art,” she said.
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 — who could only access the lodge by dogsled — 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.
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.
“Up there in Ashcroft, there was always art,” Lynne Mace recalled.
Through all the evolutions of Toklat, she sees a consistency of style in the kinds of art that has suited Toklat: “beautiful, hand-crafted art that wasn’t high end.” It’s ranged from her father’s photography to Zapotec rugs and paintings by local artists to handmade furniture and woodworks.
For the anniversary show, she asked local painters Michael Kinsley and Doug Graybeal — both of whom have been exhibiting at Toklat for decades — to make new paintings of the Castle Creek Valley.
Stuart and Isabel Mace 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.”
All of the Mace kids, Lynne said, carried their dad’s passions into their own adult lives, whether it was botany or photography or art appreciation or conservation.
“We all took a bit of something from this big pot of fabulous art,” she said.
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 in World War II, when he refused to carry a gun and instead ran sled-dog rescue operations in alpine theaters of combat. Lynne Mace reprinted the Paepcke letter recently as part of her ongoing “The Storykeeper” blog, celebrating the history of Toklat.
“We have followed a strict policy in the development of Aspen to encourage only those whom we consider tops in their line,” Paepcke wrote, pointing to the Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer, pastry chef Louis Nielsen, ski racer Dick Durrance and instructors Friedl Pfeifer and Fred Iselin as the “top” of their respective fields he’d recruited to the quiet mountain town.
Paepcke urged Mace to join them as their top dogsled man, offering financial incentives and land.
“If we continue to have enough first-raters in all the various activities around Aspen, then there is no question in my mind but what Aspen itself and everybody who lives and works there will have a bright future,” Paepcke wrote.
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.
Decades later in 1993, Lynne Mace, who had been living in Connecticut, returned home to manage Toklat. She sold the historic Ashcroft building to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies — of which her father was a founding board member — in 2005 and moved the gallery to Basalt.
While the rustic Toklat legacy has lived on in the museum-like Basalt space, she expressed disappointment that the ACES has done little to honor her father’s legacy in Ashcroft since the nonprofit took over the Ashcroft site 14 years ago.
“The legacy of my father’s influence should be at ACES,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s manifesting itself. They bought it and just let it sit.”
But the Roaring Fork Valley will be toasting the Mace family legacy in the gallery on Friday and all year long. Lynne Mace, 73, said she didn’t go all out for the 60th anniversary because it came as the Great Recession was hitting the valley. A decade later, she’s making up for it and relishing the moment.
“I decided I’m going to celebrate this one,” she said, adding with a chuckle: “because I don’t know if I’m going to be around for eight decades.”
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