Valley artist making up for lost time
December 22, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoGlenwood Springs artist Renick Stevenson readily concedes that for much of his life he was “just another drunk who lived a lot of years drunk and messing up others’ lives.”But these days, with his health deteriorating, he hopes to use his artwork to help raise money for three of the Roaring Fork Valley’s better-known nonprofit groups – The Right Door, Hospice and LIFT-UP.And, as he says he has been doing for the past 29 years, he won’t shy away from talking with anyone who cares to listen about his hard-knock life. He often cites his first 29 years as an example of the kind of life best avoided. Stevenson, 71, was a jailer at the Pitkin County Jail from 1985 to 1989, starting at the end of the era of Sheriff Dick Kienast, whose office earned the nickname “Dick the Dove and his deputies of love” because of his left-leaning, peace-loving, nontraditional approach to the job.
Stevenson got the jailer’s job, in fact, because of his status as a recovering alcoholic. He was working with recovery and treatment programs in Denver, starting almost as soon as he got sober in the late 1970s.Through that work, he met a recovering alcoholic from the Roaring Fork Valley, whom he would not name but who had connections with the sheriff’s office. The connections won him an introduction, and he got the job, staying on through the early part of the tenure of the current sheriff, Bob Braudis.It was not his first time in the valley, however. Stevenson had lived here off and on in the late 1960s, when he bounced back and forth between Aspen and Denver, with occasional stints in California. He alternated between drinking binges and artistic initiatives.For example, he said that in the 1960s he was part of the Artists’ Liberation Front in San Francisco, a Bay Area group hostile to the arts establishment and associated with the countercultural Diggers movement and other efforts of the time.He also said he was one of 12 Denver artists who started the Denver Free University in the 1970s, and he worked with inner-city youth organizations using art as a way to channel potentially explosive energies away from crime and drugs.
He also has been involved in numerous organizations that have offered drunks and drug addicts treatment, including the Outward Bound facility outside Marble in the Crystal River Valley.Most recently, he has worked on mural projects with the Michigan Rural Arts program, Michigan State University and Rapid Ascent, a program for troubled teens. Articles about the projects are online, and Stevenson has a packet of letters and newspaper articles concerning the work.But now, he has returned, at what he expects will be the end of his life, to do “the best that I can to make amends … by staying sober and being of service.” Diagnosed with a form of brain cancer three years ago and suffering from other ailments as well, he is living in Glenwood Springs at the home of an old friend. He survives off Social Security payments and his art income.He has had several of his artworks hanging in the Valley Fine Art gallery, of which owner and proprietor Mia Valley said all but one has sold.
The Post Independent newspaper in Glenwood Springs recently published a feature story focusing on his work as one of a dozen artists contributing to the Artist’s Mercantile’s “Peace” exhibit. All proceeds from sales of Stevenson’s works benefit “humanitarian causes.”And now he is seeking a venue for an upvalley show of new works, with all proceeds to go toward those same causes. Valley and he both said they worked well together for a recent benefit at her gallery, but he needs a new space for his next effort.Stevenson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling his cell phone, (989) 529-3965.John Colson’s e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org