Paul Andersen: Preserving the ‘rough edges’ of Aspen |

Paul Andersen: Preserving the ‘rough edges’ of Aspen

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Paul Soldner was an Aspen artist. His legacy lives in beautiful ceramics that bear his cultured hand and creative spirit. His legacy lives at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, which he was instrumental in creating.

Soldner’s legacy goes beyond art. It lives in the land he called home on the once rural outskirts of Aspen. This legacy is made possible by his daughter, as reported last week in The Aspen Times.

“Aspen City Council on Monday night agreed to spend $225,000 to buy a conservation easement where county approvals would allow for a 12,215-square-foot ‘monster home’ on an undisturbed sage meadow.”

Why is it a good thing to conserve Soldner’s land rather than building a “monster home”? If you have to ask that question, then consider the value irreplaceable of our beautiful natural landscapes.

A conservation easement versus a monster home is the telling distance between equating the land with nature and community and pricing the land for development and excess luxury.

A Jewish prayer sheds light on this distinction: “He still lives on Earth in the acts of goodness he performed, and in the hearts of those who cherish his memory.”

Paul Soldner’s memory is being formed through the direction his daughter, Stephanie, is taking with a conservation easement on his property. Rather than orations celebrating him or a grand tombstone marking his mortal coil, Soldner will be remembered for the land that bears his spirit.

I met Paul Soldner only once, but I know about him through local artists who placed him in high regard, not only for his works as an artist, but for his indelible and sometimes irascible sense of personal freedom.

When Soldner helped establish the Anderson Ranch Art Center in the late 1960s at Snowmass, he thwarted convention as artists ought to do, not only with his work and the way he did it, but with construction of his home, starting in the early 1950s.

“I built the buildings myself — my wife and myself,” Soldner reflected. “Occasionally a student assisted, but we would come back every summer and keep adding a roof, a beam, a floor or something. It took 10 summers of living out in a tent before we were finally able to move under a roof.”

The Soldner’s home grew organically, through sweat equity, which placed a high value on work done by their hands, by their physical investment, instead of by architects, designers, contractors and subcontractors. Soldner built his home himself, so part of him is in that home and property. It was not about the money he paid for materials. It was about the brawn and brain and creative force that spanned a decade of work.

The values of Aspen are, in large part, represented by the land and what goes on it. Real estate here expresses a monetary value system that belies deeper spiritual values that some have found here, that some still champion here. These values reflect back to the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial — the spiritual roots of Aspen’s cultural renaissance when spirit briefly triumphed over materialism.

Materialism won. That is evident in Aspen real estate development as described with a glance across Red Mountain, with glossy magazine ads that celebrate the cornucopian myth of inexhaustible resources applied to private luxury hotels that masquerade as “homes.” It is the allure of “Boundless,” which is used to describe a level of excess that bears moral and ethical implications given the harsh realities of climate change.

Soldner discovered Aspen when it was in a state of innocence: “We knew Schweitzer had come here. I was aware of the photographs of skiers that Franz Berko was doing. We were aware that there was something unique and special, and we kind of liked the rough edges at the time.”

Conserving Soldner’s land is a way of saving the “rough edges” he appreciated, the rough edges where nature is served in wildlife habitat thanks to conservation of an undeveloped corridor to the river.

Austin Weiss, the city’s parks and open space director, celebrated the Soldner property as a prime area for high-quality wildlife habitat.

“It’s such a great opportunity to preserve this land.”

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at