Herbie Balderson, restaurateur, artist and ski bum, dead at age 64
Herbie Balderson, a longtime local whose life and work represent and define the ideal of Aspen as a place that nurtures body, spirit and mind, died peacefully in his home, surrounded by family, on Monday, Dec. 29. He was 64.
Herbert Parham Balderson III arrived in Aspen in 1959 from California, rather serendipitously, on a whim to accompany some friends in their VW bug on a road trip to the Colorado high country.
After living for seven days in the car, Herbie acquired work as a dishwasher at the Hickory House and by 1960, at age 20, he had graduated to bartender at the Blue Noodle.
While working at Peter Guy’s Steak Pit restaurant in 1961-62, Herbie met Buzz Bent and Joey Cabell, the duo who founded the Chart House restaurant in 1963. They enticed Herbie to work at their restaurant, where he became the executive manager.
It was at the Chart House, in January 1963, that Herbie met Marcy Bayless, a college coed who was visiting her sister, Polly Whitcomb. Marcy and Herbie were married in November that same year.
Together they fashioned a life of work and family, driven by their shared desire to be good parents and tailored by the ski bum/artisan/work hard/play hard/living-on-a-shoestring lifestyle of Aspen in the ’60s.
In 1975, the ownership of the Chart House restructured with a corporate buyer, and Herbie became one of the landlords allowing him the time to pursue his art.
Herbie’s artistic beginnings were first as a collector/scavenger of pieces of nature. He then rearranged his collected items into new forms and from them created images and sculptures that captured hearts and imaginations.
After beginning what became a lifetime association with Stuart Mace, Herbie’s art moved into chain-sawed wood carvings, predominantly robust female forms.
In 1980, Herbie moved on to wood turning, in which he became a master craftsman.
Using exotic woods collected from all over the world and more common woods native to the area, he created unique works of art. His work has been included in the Renwick Collectors Study Tour, featured in galleries around the country.
A self-proclaimed “simple man,” he was anything but that. His repertoire of skills included logging, outfitter, mechanic, house builder, entrepreneur and artist.
Most notably, Herbie was an impassioned frontiersman, constantly seeking the road not taken or the one least traveled. His spirit of adventure led him, usually with Marcy and children in tow, to pirate the seas of Baja, row some of the West’s most provocative rivers and to camp, hike and hunt mushrooms throughout the Rocky Mountains.
He would hunker down for days, camouflaged in the wilderness, waiting for the elk, not truly caring if they came or not, content with hearing them bugle.
He sought refuge from Aspen winter tourist seasons, and for 18 years he and Marcy took off to their home in a rural location on Maui, Hawaii. In 1990, they fled a changing Hawaii and sought out a new frontier in the jungles of Costa Rica where the family hand built a rustic retreat at the edge of the Pacific.
In great contrast to his “dismissal of mankind,” was Herbie’s faith and loyalty toward his friends, who are rare, unusual, renegade, comical, talented and abundant. Herbie’s generosity of spirit, ribald humor and his willingness to share his time and wisdom made him easy to get to know and easy to love.
He was a man with strong values and immense spirit and courage for those who knew him; HPB III will be forever remembered for his sense of adventure and his creative imagination.
Herbie always viewed his greatest achievement as his immediate family: his best friend and wife of 40 years, Marcy; his son, Dylan, a glass artist and woodworker, who, along with his wife, Jacqueline, have their own studio; his daughter, Erica, a graphic artist and designer who has her own business; and grandson, Wyatt, an independent 2-year-old. Herbie is survived by his mother, Betty Balderson of Rancho Bernardo, sister Kay of San Diego and brother Bobby of Maui, Hawaii.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the HPB III Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide support for a promising Roaring Fork Valley wood turner/woodworker to attend Anderson Ranch each summer.
Donations may be sent to: Anderson Ranch Art Center, Herb Balderson Scholarship Fund, PO Box 5598, Snowmass Village, CO 81615.