Straight Up Snowmass: Doug Casebeer puts his creativity to work
November 19, 2014
No one knows Anderson Ranch like Doug Casebeer.
Currently the longest-serving employee at the arts facility, Casebeer is coming up on his 30th anniversary as the artistic director of ceramics. Casebeer was the first artistic director the Ranch hired, he said.
"The organization knew they wanted to grow and mature," Casebeer said. The board and director at that time came up with a model involving artistic directors and an executive leader, all working together to mold the vision for the facility, which is the system the center still uses today.
Then-director Brad Miller pursued Casebeer while he was working for the United Nations in Kingston, Jamaica. A ceramics technical consultant, Casebeer was training people to make pottery, souvenirs and hotel ware so that they could take those skills and open their own businesses.
"I have a huge interest in that, and I still maintain projects in Jamaica," said Casebeer, who returns there every April to work with rural schoolteachers and also has led projects in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Santiago, Chile.
Casebeer and his wife, Susan, arrived in Trench Town just before Bob Marley's death. Those were hard times, particularly in that part of the city, and being there in that time had a huge impact on Casebeer. Often within earshot of gunfire, Casebeer would stay after work with his staff. With he and his wife being the only white Americans in the neighborhood, Casebeer said the people he met taught him respect for himself and others.
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"That three years … validated my voice, that I had something to say," he said. "Still to this day I'm known as that crazy white guy that spent three years in Trench Town."
Miller convinced Casebeer to relocate by mailing him three Polaroid snapshots stapled together, giving him a landscape view of the Ranch's campus. Casebeer still has those images stapled above his desk. He and Susan were getting ready to start their family, too. So in January 1985, they arrived in Snowmass Village, expecting to only stay a few years before moving on to a teaching position as many artists do. However, 30 years later, that clearly wasn't the case.
"I didn't get sucked into academia," Casebeer said. "My life has been in service of the arts through nonprofits. I feel really good about that."
He and Susan also fell in love with Snowmass. They lived on campus for 17 years, raising their son and daughter there for much of it, and then lived in the Crossings for several years. They recently relocated to a property outside of Carbondale.
Having also worked as a builder before his artistic career, Casebeer has been involved with every construction project on the campus. When asked what he does, he says, "I call myself a builder. I just work in lots of areas."
A native of Kansas and Oklahoma, the Great Plains of his youth still inform his work to this day. The way barns and silos dot the wide-open landscape guide the way he, for example, arranges pottery on a surface, he said.
"As artists, our sense of design and interpretation are formed very early in childhood," he said. "Where I grew up, the sky was bigger than the land. … (It's) how I formed all my spatial relationships in my work."
Doug and Susan have seen the valley change a lot in their time here, as well as the Ranch. The campus has grown from about 12,000 square feet of studio space to about 50,000; it served about 1,100 students in its summer workshops this year — a far cry from the 200 that Doug remembers from his first summer.
Casebeer has been a big part of that growth, from his second year on campus when he created the center's artist-in-residence program to now, having recently added associate director of the Ranch to his job description.
"Our residency program is world-renowned," Casebeer said. "We have trained young artistic minds who have gone on to be leaders in the field.
"I think what has held my interest all these years (is that) there's an incredible sense of potential and contribution to the art field at large. … We have this grand aspiration to be the best art center in the world. It gives us something to look forward to."
Casebeer also feels he contributes the perspective of an artist to the Ranch's administration. He and his colleagues still find time for their own art, even if it's during odd hours. With his annual trip to Jamaica and speaking engagements across the country, he's often traveling, too.
"One thing about me that I know is that I'm happiest when I have multiple tasks," Casebeer said. "It's all fun for me."
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