Maroon Bells festival thrives despite weather

Charles Agar
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

“Some of those days that you wouldn’t want to venture outside are the best days for painting,” said plein-air artist Liz Thele of Carbondale.Despite the cold weather and overcast skies, Thele said the turnout Saturday for the third annual Maroon Bells Festival of Color was the best yet, and she has high hopes for sunshine and bigger crowds today at Aspen Highlands.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than 30 artists and vendors will converge on Highlands Village for the second day of festivities. There are craft stalls, free samples from Stone Cottage Wine Cellars of Paonia and lots of activities for kids, including a large canvas where children of all ages can smock up and spackle paint. Jimmy Ibbotson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Brian Savage keep music in the air all day.The event’s founder, John West Townsend, is a co-owner of Aspen Artists Gallery and represents Thele. He started the event to bring artists of all kinds together to practice their skills in the shadow of Highlands’ fall landscape.

The festival has grown since the first year, Townsend said, and now includes not only the original artists who came to the first event, but also vendors who rent space. “I’ve sold two paintings,” Thele said with a grin, “and I’m enjoying it.”

Thele aimed her easel at the Highlands trails, which are loaded with the recent snowfall and are spotted with golden aspen trees. Her canvas attracted a small crowd of onlookers.”The weather isn’t getting me down,” she said. In fact, Thele said she often has to work from photographs of the area at this time of year because there is rarely any snow and she likes the backdrop. She travels the length of the Rocky Mountains, and finds inspiration in the grandeur of the mountains.The base village at Aspen Highlands is home to four galleries, and this year’s festival organizer, Jeannette Darnauer of Darnauer Marketing and PR, said that she has a vision that the area will become “an art village.” The popular festival, she said, is a big part of that.

While the chilly weather drove many of the vendors inside Saturday and a few artists canceled, Darnauer was pleased so many hearty Aspenites showed up. With warm weather in today’s forecast she expects a big turnout. Charles Agar’s e-mail address is


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