Mountain Character: Carl Heck: Traveler, Tiffany collector and letter writer
With America in the throes of an unprecedented presidential campaign and Aspen mired in its long-running debates over affordable housing, traffic and development, Carl Heck has plenty to write about.
Verbosity, however, isn’t his objective. Rather, he subscribes to the school of quick and dirty.
“I want my letters to get right to the point, but I add a touch of flavor just to make them more interesting for reading,” he said. “I basically point out the obvious, but it’s not like I’m Norman Lear.”
It doesn’t take a political scientist to see that Heck swings from the left in his letters to the local newspapers, but he hasn’t bled blue all of his life.
“I voted for Reagan (in 1984),” he said. “I actually liked Nixon at one time. I’m not sure why.”
Heck has lived in Aspen for more than 40 years; however, he didn’t start publicly weighing in on politics until the Bush-Cheney regime’s push for invading Iraq, which happened in 2003.
“The trigger point was Bush and Cheney and the destruction they did,” he said.
In fact, Heck, who has volunteered for the Pitkin County Democrats for nearly a decade, didn’t join the party until recently so he could participate in the March 1 Super Tuesday caucus. Ironically, the party once recognized him — when he wasn’t a Democrat — for his volunteer work registering people to vote.
Heck also speaks in reverent tones about President Barack Obama and campaigned for him in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Now that he’s officially a Democrat — he was unaffiliated before then — Heck has embraced the role.
“I liked both candidates, and I had a hard time choosing,” he said of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “But in my mind, Hillary had a much better chance of winning the White House.”
Heck said he won’t be surprised if Republican nominee Donald Trump quits the race.
“I just think he’s such a narcissist that losing is not in his vocabulary,” he said, noting he thinks the election will be either super-tight or a landslide victory for Clinton.
Locally, Heck campaigned against the Base2 Lodge last year. Aspen voters rejected the hotel in the November election, and Heck discovered that local politics create strange bedfellows.
He worked with such outspoken Aspen conservatives as Maurice Emmer and Steve Goldenberg to defeat Base2, a 37-room lodge proposed by developer Mark Hunt at 232 E. Main St.
“I worked hand in hand with those guys,” he said. “I even went to a party at Maurice’s house. We always laughed that we didn’t agree on politics, but we agreed on this.”
He also opposed the Aspen Power Plant proposal for the former art-museum building and is outspoken against a so-called straight shot through the Marolt Open Space to solve Aspen’s traffic woes. His biggest pet peeve, however, is that Aspen residents don’t recycle enough.
“We should be leading the nation in how to do this,” he said. “We have a great service here, but people are lazy. I constantly see people throwing plastic containers and aluminum in trash bins.”
Before coming to Aspen, Heck grew up on a farm in rural Missouri, where every day he observed, with fascination, a stained-glass window in his bedroom.
“I fell in love with looking at stained glass,” he said.
He started collecting stained glass while attending Northwest Missouri State University. He moved to Aspen in 1970 and opened Country Flower downtown in 1972. The retailer sold contemporary glass art, stained glass and other items, before closing in the late 1980s.
Now a private dealer, Heck said his true affinity lies with Tiffany stained glass and lamps. In 2009, three of his Tiffany pieces were part of the “Louis Comfort Tiffany: Color and Light” exhibition at Musee du Luxembourg in Paris.
They’ve also been exhibited in museums in Chicago and Dallas, among other large cities.
His work has allowed him to travel the world, but many of his trips have been merely for pleasure. He’s been to Cuba 30 times and visited 76 countries. His goal is to visit at least 100.
But it was a September 2001 trip to Newfoundland that Heck didn’t book. On Sept. 11, he was aboard a United flight from Amsterdam to Chicago.
America was being attacked while Heck saw flight attendants on his aircraft crying, fearful that danger was imminent. U.S. airspace was closed, and the plane landed in Newfoundland. Of the thousands of travelers dispersed in Newfoundland, Heck ended up at St. John’s Bay.
Heck stayed there seven days and seven nights, sleeping in a gymnasium. He had no access to his baggage, either.
Heck, , who is single, often brings along his 26-year-old daughter, who lives in Colorado Springs, on trips.
While he leads a rich life, Heck said he wishes his literary offerings were published with more frequency.
“I really have a complaint with The Aspen Times,” he quipped. “And that’s they don’t print all of the letters that I send them.”
Something tells us that won’t dissuade him from writing more.
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