Vagneur: The soul-soothing calmness of art |

Vagneur: The soul-soothing calmness of art

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

One of the many highlights of this past week has been the Plein Air Festival hosted by the Red Brick Arts Center. If you don’t already know, “plein air” simply means painting in the great outdoors with your subject in full view. If you don’t like that term, try “peinture sur lemotif” for a little different French description of plein air, which means virtually the same thing.

The excitement ran high on the festival’s opening night as everyone checked in for the lowdown on what to expect. Angie Callen, Red Brick chief guru, made us aware that it’s about fun, painting, learning, socialization and, in the end, serious marketing. Even I, a nonpainter, felt the enthusiastic vibrations emanating from each individual, and for a brief moment, thought maybe the blood of the artiste does run somewhere deep in my veins. Let’s face it, I can’t sing, gave up the accordion as too cumbersome, no longer engage in barroom oratory, and imagined that with a little help, painting might fit my quiver of creative things to do.

My presence at the Red Brick was tolerated by the fact that Margaret Reckling, my partner in life, had invited me not only to share in the excellent outdoor dinner we enjoyed, but also to assist in the carrying of her bag of schwag (credentials, books, pamphlets, directions, etc.) as she had just done some serious damage to her shoulder. So, other than a solitary observer, I did have a purpose in the overall plan.

Ah, but the writer’s mind wanders incessantly, and as I listened to the week’s outline, I could see across the street, now occupied by an overbuilt Aspen house, the once-vacant lot where we learned to play baseball. The lot clearly belonged to someone — whom it didn’t matter — for in our world of Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and other heroes, it was our baseball diamond, every recess, weather permitting.

The Red Brick hasn’t been on my radar much since I graduated from high school, other than a couple of visits, mostly by accident. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s best not to disturb cherished memories with current reality — it takes away from both. And as we entered one of the old classrooms, I could still imagine the hissing and knocking of the ageless steam heaters, apparently still in use; absent-mindedly twisted an ancient latch on the metal-encased windows that yet grace most of the rooms with an outside view, and could still remember a thousand things that would mean nothing to anyone but me.

Down the corridor we went, shuffling along on the well-polished, timeworn oak flooring, the long hall where we used to have spring track practice when deep snow prevented such outside activities. Past the boys room, where just in front of the last stall we ambushed an older Jimmy Anderson and convinced him that bullying could be injurious to his health. He later became our friend.

Paintings, sculptures and other artistic pieces graced the passage, and each room contained the visions of someone’s artistic production. Fine art, we used to call it, and probably still do.

It’s hard for a neophyte like me to imagine that painting could be rushed, that it could be competitive in a timed sense, but yesterday there was a quick-draw contest, a paint-out that required a work to be produced from scratch to framed finish in two hours or less. That’s like out of the Old West, a high-noon duel at Wagner Park, no holds barred. In either scenario, there could be but one winner. The winning piece can be seen at this weekend’s exhibition.

Since we’re talking a bit of French here, let me say that the “piece de resistance” of the entire festival is taking place today and Sunday at the Limelight Hotel.

Think about it: 22 artists, many of them from Aspen or the Roaring Fork Valley, each producing at least six paintings for your viewing pleasure, which includes the quick-draw exhibit. All of these works will be for sale, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add a totally unique canvas to your collection.

These creations are available (framed) for you take home (or have shipped!) today or Sunday. Commissioned work also is available. The best part is that a portion of each sale will benefit the Red Brick and our local arts education and outreach programs. Hours at the Limelight Hotel are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

As mentioned, I’m not a painter, and doubt I ever will be, but there is a soul-soothing calmness to be enjoyed from viewing the unique perspective each artist brings to his or her work.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at