Aspen Valley Land Trust invites artists to capture the scenery it has preserved

Jill Sabella, “Cottonwoods,” Windstar, Old Snowmass.

Through their canvases, a group of ten locally based painters are offering a rare and illuminating tour of some breathtaking and rarely glimpsed Roaring Fork Valley landscapes.

For the group exhibition “Our Lands,” on view at the Aspen Chapel Gallery through early October, Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) invited artists onto its preserved lands as a creative way to share their work with the public.

Ten percent of sales from the show will go to AVLT, but the nonprofit’s executive director Suzanne Stephens said that using artwork to communicate the organization’s conservation work is even more important.

“Beyond even the proceeds from the paintings, I think it’s the telling of the story and the conveying of the emotion and the sense of place that they captured,” Stephens said last week. “That, for me is the most powerful thing.”

Over the past 54 years, AVLT has protected more than 67 square miles of open spaces for wildlife, agriculture and recreation. Their conserved land include 10 public spaces like Sky Mountain Park along with some 100 miles of river and stream and more than 30,000 acres of winter habitat for deer and elk.

Originally scheduled for 2020 and delayed due to the pandemic, “Our Lands” was curated by the painter and former Aspen Valley Land Trust boardmember Doug Graybeal, who also spearheaded the idea of inviting artists onto properties conserved by the nonprofit.

Jill Sabella, “The Mesa,” Capitol Creek Ranch, Old Snowmass.

“We have had a year to be able access these lands,” Graybeal said in the exhibition announcement last month. “The result is a show that highlights what has been saved forever.”

Working en plein air, the artists fanned across ten properties protected by AVLT conservation easements, all the way from the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen down to the Silt River Preserve near Silt, in between setting up their easels on historic ranches and unspoiled wildlife habitat.

Graybeal and Stephens strategically chose properties with varied scenery, from the downhome farming scenes of Darien Ranch in Marble to wild mountainscapes and river scenes. The show also includes paintings of the newest property preserved through AVLT: the 141-acre Coffman Ranch near Carbondale, transferred to the land trust in August.

Jill Sabella, “Early Morning,” Coffman Ranch.

“It was a rare opportunity because a lot of these places are protected for agriculture or wildlife habitat and they’re not places that have public access,” Stephens explained. “It was special for the artists to be able to get out to them.”

Several of the properties include old homesteads that have weathered into beautiful and rustic scenes, which drew the eyes of many of the artists. Others went for the pure and untainted scenes of mountain, meadow, river and forest, of skies at dusk

The paintings in the show capture scenes varied from the old tractors and solos of McBride Ranch to worn fences and barns, dirt roads, sage brush, pristine mountains and meadows (and some even painting other painters at work).

They’re varied in style, too, from the stand-out work of Michael Kinsley’s stylized Benton-style landscapes to Laurie McBride’s dreamy watercolors and Lorraine Davis’s winter scenes.

“I’m always amazed at how two artists who are standing next to each other will capture this entirely mood and scene,” said Stephens. “I was overwhelmed and blown away at what came out of it and everybody’s different interpretations.”

Jill Sabella, “Mt Sopris,” Windstar, Old Snowmass.

Along with selling their work through the show, each artist donated one to AVLT. Those works will all be exhibited in a Febuary show at the Village Smithy, in Carbondale with all proceeds going to the nonprofit. And expect more AVLT art shows to come.

“It’s a powerful method of communicating and capturing the essence of these places,” said Stephens.