When we finished building the scale model of our homemade-house-to-be, Tom and Sharron Hicks suggested that we show it to local artist Paul Soldner. Paul and his wife Ginny had been building unique stone buildings near Aspen since the mid-50s. He had just been featured, along with two other artists, in the ABC special, “With These Hands – The Rebirth of the American Craftsman.” He was a rock star in the world of American raku pottery, and we were a little intimidated as we loaded our model into the back of Tom’s Ford truck.
We arrived at the Soldner Compound (as we called it), which appeared to be placed in the middle of a perfectly flat and level cow pasture. It looked like two rock, beam, and glass sculptures nestled among boulders and trees, which weren’t part of the original landscape. A 10-foot-tall geometric stack of cantilevered, multi-colored radiators greeted us on the left as we drove slowly into his bumpy driveway; our model balanced on a mattress. Paul and Ginny had recently carved out a 40-foot circle at the edge of their existing two buildings, dug the footers and were in the beginnings stages of a huge igloo made of cinderblocks. It would be topped by a pagoda roof and serve their needs for expanded studio space.
Paul was wiry and muscular, tanned, and dressed in his standard attire … shirtless, hatless, and wearing a Speedo and flip-flops. He took a few minutes to look at our model and said, “I’ll tell you what. I think it looks great. Any tool I own, or any vehicle, is always at your disposal. You don’t even have to ask, just come and take it. And I’ll be glad to come and work for you for a day anytime you need help, if you’ll do the same for me.”
We traded a dozen days in the next five years, and more since then. Whenever we had a critical day, Paul was there. The day we raised the trusses, the day we poured and smooth-troweled the back bedroom floors, the day we first hooked up our homemade black pipe radiant heat system, and the day we troweled the outdoor sunken ferro-cement hot tub. They were all long, good days with Paul Soldner and we’d always finish off the day with a family dinner and Paul and Ginny’s homemade wine. We’d eat outside at his house, on a huge marble slab, surrounded by his bonsai trees and rock gardens, or at our incomplete construction site. He taught us how to do things we didn’t think we could do, without ever telling us how to do them.
One time, in later years, Paul and Ginny were getting ready to go somewhere for a few weeks and I offered to water his plants. We spent almost two hours light-watering a hundred bonsai that he’d grown in automobile brake drums scavenged from the dump. Then there were another 30 or 40 plants around the property – each of which had special needs. Here he was, internationally famous artist, in the middle of photographing and packing up dozens of pieces for a worldwide museum exposition of his work, and he was spending over an hour a day just watering his plants. When I remarked upon it he said, “What are you trying to tell me Sandy? This is what I do.”
We’re just a very few of Paul’s disciples. You know who you are.
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Two boys and a Carbondale woman suffered life-threatening injuries Wednesday near Basalt after a possibly speeding truck careened across the Highway 82 median and struck the car they were in head-on.