A decade of the best little art show in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

A decade of the best little art show in Aspen

by Andrew Travers
Ceramics works by Mary Ballou on display at the Aspen Chapel Gallery.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The parking lot overflowed, sending cars to the icy roadside up Meadowood Drive. Crowds streamed into the Aspen Chapel Gallery.

Amidst the buzzing throng inside on opening night, each time I made a lap around the gallery’s 10th annual “Small Wonders” art show, there were fewer artworks on the walls as more and more were snatched up by buyers.

The show truly is a wonder. In a town glutted with galleries and glittery openings with international artists, no exhibition this holiday season is likely to spawn the widespread anticipation and enthusiasm that “Small Wonders” brings every December to the basement of a church in a nonprofit, volunteer-run gallery showing work by local artists.

Its formula is simple: small original works of no larger than 12-by-12 inches, made by 30 selected Aspen area artists, sold at affordable prices (most less than $200).

Curator Ada Christensen brought a variety of style and media to this year’s collection, which opened Dec. 2 and runs through Jan. 2.

Brian Colley’s relief engravings imagined constellations with their animal kingdom namesakes actually in the stars (i.e. “Ursa Majora” has a gold leaf bear in the starry sky).

Sam Louras crafted mind-bending sculptures, such as a bird made from wooden kitchenware and Scrabble pieces (which spelled “FLY”).

There were Dede Brinkman’s moody resin-cast travel photos, Shelia Babbie’s playful collages of ‘50s era cartoon girls in Ashcroft landscapes, Izzy Zaino’s exuberant photo prints of tropical fish, Eden Marsh’s preciously fashioned handmade books.

Georgeann Waggaman painted watercolors capturing local scenes of the downtown pedestrian mall, of the Roaring Fork River, and the Benedict Music Tent. Lisa Singer’s acrylics depicted snowy rural scenes, in which farmhouses were obscured by whiteout conditions. Carla Reed painted fluorescent farm animals.

The quality is high. The prices are low. There are no chintzy Christmas tree ornaments in “Small Wonders.”

The youngest of this year’s exhibitors was 14-year-old Maeve Cassetty, who exhibited a richly imagined collection of nature photography from Cabo San Lucas, New Zealand’s Milford Sound and elsewhere.

“I went back through my favorite images and thought about what was beautiful and what was interesting,” she explained.

She was inspired to be a photographer, she said, by Summers Moore, who a few feet away was exhibiting emotive close-up shots of horses.

For the scrum of potential buyers shuffling around the show, the relatively small size of the works and commensurately small price tags are an obvious draw. For artists, the limitation of scale often encourages inventive new approaches.

Dave Durrance, for example, normally works on large canvases, crafting abstract geometric works in the Herbert Bayer tradition. Making works of one-foot by one-foot was a new experience for him, as he prepared for his first “Small Wonders.” His pieces depicted shadows of orbs and doors and shapes in bright fluorescents.

“It’s a real challenge for me,” Durrance said at the opening. “My vocabulary is for bigger spaces, so to limit it to the available space I had to simplify, simplify, simplify.”