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Vollmecke’s alpacas of Cedar Ranch

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On one of the rolling hills along Highway 50 from Pueblo to Canon City, at Cedar Canyon Ranch, is where John Vollmecke has found tranquillity.

His journey began when he read an advertisement for alpacas during his lunch hour at a federal prison complex, where he worked for many years. The job took a toll on his nerves and he said he needed to find a way to relax. That’s why the idea of the alpaca captured his imagination. Raising the South American camelids seemed like a hobby that he would enjoy and would have a calming effect.

“The first time I saw an alpaca, I fell in love right away,” he said. “I talked to (my wife, Glenda) ‘Glen,’ (who) was a little bit hesitant about it.”

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Photo by Nick Naglich

After doing some research, the couple drove to Parker to look at three alpacas which were corralled in a barn. As the couple entered, the three alpacas turned in their direction to look at them.

“That just did it for Glen (and I),” Vollmecke added.

So they purchased two females, which were pregnant, a male and a small alpaca known as a cria then returned home, where they built a fence, shelter and set up everything to raise them.

“(The alpacas) started having babies,” Vollmecke said. “When I was at work, Glen delivered the babies.”

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As time went on, he had the alpacas sheared and wondered what to do with the fiber. The most obvious answer was to use it to make yarn and clothing.

Alpaca fiber is luxurious and ideal for clothing because it’s hypoallergenic and lacks the scratchiness often found in other fibers. It’s softer than cashmere, nearly indestructible and lighter and warmer than wool. Each year, an alpaca can produce seven to 10 pounds of fleece — that’s about five or six inches sheared from an alpaca.

After taking several spinning tours around the state, he met Dawn Hall, who had a yarn shop in Florence.

“Dawn Hall taught me how to spin, but I flunked her course three times,” he said. “I couldn’t get my feet and hands to work together.”

Then, he attended a fiber festival in Estes Park, where he saw a woman spinning the fiber on a double treble machine, using her feet and hands together. After taking a quick lesson, he was up and spinning after just 20 minutes. So, he purchased a spinning wheel, a carding machine and a nibbly nobby to stretch the yarn. He also purchased a knitting machine and took classes to learn how to use it.

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John Vollmecke takes sheared wool and cleans, separates and then spins it into yarn. He then uses a knitting machine to make various handmade wool products. Photo by Nick Naglich

“That was the beginning (of learning) how to knit,” said Vollmecke, who got involved with a machine knitters group. “They took me under their wings and gave me lessons and a bunch of patterns, and I started getting better and better.”

He continued his trek with having the alpacas sheared once a year then shaking the dirt, straw or hay out of the fiber before shaking the rest of it off in a tumbler then washing it in a product called a Kookaburra.

“It also treats it in case there’s any mites or moth eggs that might be in the fiber,” Vollmecke said.

After he learned to spin the fiber, he learned how to knit on a machine. Now he could do much more with the alpaca fiber.

“The first thing I made (was) a shawl that came over your shoulders and pulled over your head,” Vollmecke said. “It was kind of a neck warmer, but also a scarf.”

Since honing his skills, he has sold them online and through local shops.

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Photo by Nick Naglich

He finally learned to relax. It’s easier now that he is retired, where he can spin, knit and mix the yarn with a variety of color from the alpacas–alpaca fiber is classified into 22 different colors–  into scarves, hats, sweaters, shawls, socks and other merchandise, which is available at alpacasrus.net. The website also features webcams of the alpacas and Vollmecke’s spinning room.

 

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Her Paris

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When we open an art history book or go to a major art museum, male artists dominate the narrative. A woman may be represented here and there, but the overall impression given is that women were negligible players in the history of art, outliers and curiosities.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, especially in 19th-century Paris. From the French Revolution on, women were a major presence on the Parisian art scene. They may not have been allowed into l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, France’s largest art school, until 1897, but they were allowed to exhibit in the Paris Salon, Europe’s preeminent art exhibition–and did, in great numbers. Women studied art under private tutors or at smaller art academies like the Académie Julian, all while pushing for greater equality in the art world and, by extension, society as a whole. They were also major contributors to independent exhibitions, including those of the French Impressionists.

Her Paris goes a long way toward bringing more attention to these “forgotten” artists with an exhibit devoted entirely to women painters from the latter half of the 19th century. This huge exhibition is divided into seven sections covering portraiture, genre scenes, fashion, childhood, landscape, history painting, and “jeunes filles,” or young women.

The exhibit opens with portraiture, which seems a straightforward subject. But this section is more than just a series of portraits. It’s the perfect way to start the conversation about female artists in Paris because it demonstrates they weren’t a negligible presence on the Parisian art scene: they were part of an entire community. They were friends, sisters, roommates, neighbors, and rivals who lived, studied, socialized, and worked together to gain recognition for their artistic talents–not just individually, but as a group. From Berthe Morisot and her sister, Edna; once-famous Marie Bashkirtseff and the only person she considered her artistic equal, Louise Breslau; to Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, an American painter who was friends with Rosa Bonheur and later wrote her biography. These portraits show that women artists didn’t just come to Paris because it was the epicenter of European art; they came because in Paris they could find encouragement and support amongst other women.


The next section of Her Paris continues that theme, with scenes from everyday life, also known as genre. The theme may seem innocuous at first, until one looks closer. Between moments of eating dinner and pouring tea are women smoking (scandalous!), reading–which for a woman at the time was still a revolutionary act, underscoring they were human beings with an intellect and interior “life of the mind,” as the exhibition puts it–and performing the commonplace tasks and chores that formed the underpinning of Parisian society.

The grandest painting in this section is Lunch in the Greenhouse by Louise Abbéma, which dominates the wall at the far end of the gallery. When it was first exhibited in public, it was criticized for being “flat” and “emotionless.” But its rich color and high level of detail make it nearly irresistible: you feel like you can step right into the piece and sit down at the table.

There’s also a very modern rejection of narrative or moralizing in Lunch in the Greenhouse; it’s merely a snapshot of a moment, although Abbéma couldn’t resist adding the charm of the little girl with the big pink bow or the dog beside her. The other figures are friends and family of Abbéma, most notably the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, with whom Abbéma is rumored to have had an affair. If true that makes Abbéma’s expression in the painting as she reclines behind Bernhardt all the more intriguing.

Abbéma also painted one of the stand-out pieces in the next section, devoted to fashion. Among the Flowers shows a woman in a gorgeous flower-printed white dress, whose form is mirrored by the black urn overflowing with flowers beside her. Abbéma’s association of a woman with a decorative object (indeed, the woman seems to be greeting the plant as if it were a person) sums up the theme of this section: that by focusing on fashion, these female artists weren’t just conflating fashion with art, but rejecting the idea that decoration of themselves and their homes should be their only creative outlet.

The next section focuses on paintings of children. While the idea that women artists are innately better able to depict children is patently stupid (men had been doing it perfectly well since the Renaissance), it can perhaps be said that women had greater access to child models. In fact, female artists of the 19th century usually used friends and family as models exclusively, since models for hire tended to have unsavory backgrounds (cough prostitutes cough).

The childhood section introduces the most unique artist by far included in Her Paris, German painter Paula Mendersohn-Becker. One of the earliest expressionist painters, Mendersohn-Becker is frequently referred to as the first female modernist and with good reason. Her paintings look like something out of the 1930s rather than the 19th century. Becker’s figures are flatly modeled, with a limited palette and expressive facial features. Far from pretty, there’s no denying the irresistible charm of Becker’s work in her use of line and her focus on the emotions, rather than the appearance, of her sitters.

The landscape section serves as the lynchpin of the whole exhibition because it’s here where you can really see how 19th-century women were pushing painting forward in new directions.

One of the most unique pieces is Waterfall by Fanny Churberg, which was described as abnormal and “strange” by contemporaries. It is unusual, but in an intriguing way. Churberg’s painting is highly naturalistic and textured, almost as if one is looking at it through a stereoscope (a way to combine two images into one to create a 3D effect). Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz’s atmospheric Unter den Linden in Berlin is another standout piece, as is Helen Schjerfbeck’s The Door, which captures a church door in Brittany. It’s a landscape, but could just as easily be called a still life, one that uses light and color to suggest a spiritual and symbolic component.

The last two sections of Her Paris–history painting and jeunes filles–are not as tightly themed as the previous sections, although they contain some of the exhibition’s best pieces. One of these is Plowing in the Nivernais by Rosa Bonheur, by far the most famous female painter of the 19th century, or any century before it. A child prodigy, she was the first woman to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest artistic award, which the Empress Eugenie herself pinned to Bonheur’s breast at her chateau outside of Paris.

Plowing in the Nivernais is one of Bonheur’s most well-known works, painted just after the 1848 Revolution that instituted the Second Republic. The stars of the painting are the Nivernais oxen clomping across the canvas, rendered in exquisite and loving detail. But Plowing in the Nivernais doesn’t just demonstrate Bonheur’s skill as an animal painter: her treatment of the soil, atmosphere, and sunlight is the height of realism. You can almost feel the heat of the sun, smell the turned earth, and feel the soft ground beneath your feet. Indeed, the very solidity of the oxen and landscape conveys a sense of permanence and on the grand scale of a history painting. Bonheur may not have been painting history as such, but she was undoubtedly commenting on the endurance of France, despite the ups and downs of political changes.

Other artists of note include Anna Archer, whose paintings are quiet, yet luminous; Eva Gonzalès, the only pupil of Edouard Manet, who has several charming pieces; Marianne Stokes, with gorgeously rich canvases inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites; and Julie Delance-Feurgard, whose Le marriage exudes an intense feeling of movement and suspense, despite the rather staid subject matter.

Her Paris is an extraordinary exhibition that introduces art lovers to the best painters they’ve never heard of. The sheer volume of work in this exhibit is staggering, especially when one considers it covers just 35 female painters who trod Paris’ cobblestoned streets for a mere fifty years. Her Paris, along with The Women of Abstract Expressionism that took place earlier this year, marks the DAM as an institutional leader and innovator. This show is definitely not one to be missed.

Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism will be on view through January 14th, 2018. Advanced tickets are highly recommended. For more information, visit denverartmuseum.org.

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Walsenburg’s Museum of Friends, The Improbable Gallery turns 10

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The small, working-class town of Walsenburg, Colorado, seems an unlikely location for a top-notch contemporary art museum crammed with works by over 600 important and influential artists. But the charming Museum of Friends is just such a place, a hidden gem on Walsenburg’s main drag that’s a must-visit for anyone with an interest in the arts.

Many of the best museums in the world–the British Museum, the Borghese Gallery, the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian, and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, just to name a few–started out as personal collections, and the Museum of Friends is no different. Co-founders Brendt Berger and Maria Cocchiarelli-Berger call their museum the Museum of Friends because it consists of pieces given to them or the museum by fellow artists. Berger and Cocchiarelli have lived all over the country, from Maine to Hawaii, and their collection reflects the diversity of their friends, acquaintances, and experiences, accumulated over the course of 50-odd years working in the arts.

Many of the artists represented at the Museum of Friends were active in the numerous “hippie” communes that popped up all over Southern Colorado in the 1960s and ’70s. That’s no coincidence: Berger visited Drop City, the first rural commune in the US, in the 1960s and participated briefly in its offshoot, Libre, near Gardner. Sketches, photos, and paintings of the communes’ signature geodesic domes are scattered throughout the second-floor gallery. The fact that so many pieces in the Museum document the artistic styles and movements coming out of these communes makes the Museum of Friends the first and only museum of the countercultural movement in the U.S.

But you don’t have to be into counterculture to enjoy a visit to the Museum of Friends! There’s truly something for everyone, from luminous watercolors to vintage posters, color field paintings to collages, lithographic prints and drawings, artifacts from the South Pacific and Asia, found art sculptures, and even an art library. The collection includes Guggenheim Fellows, National Medal of Arts recipients, reality TV stars (Peregrine Honig from Bravo’s Work of Art: Search for the Next Great Artist), naturalists, abstractionists, expressionists, surrealists, and artists who don’t fall into any –ism at all. You might recognize pieces by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Christo, Denver native Dennis Oppenheim, Linda Fleming, and NYT cartoonist Richard Mock. But there’s an even greater chance you’ll fall in love with an artist whose work you’ve never seen before.

That’s because the Museum of Friends’ focus isn’t on big names or price points, but interconnection. Every piece in the collection has a story attached to it, and Berger and Cocchiarelli are more than happy to share those memories with visitors on guided tours. It’s those links and personal relationships that make the Museum of Friends special, underscoring the true power of art: its ability to form connections between people and create a sense of community.

“Art is so heavily focused on monetary value today,” Berger told us. “That’s why you see the same artists over and over in exhibitions, no matter where you go in the world. We wanted to bypass that and take money out of the equation. Everything here is given or traded by people who put their lives on the line to create art. It’s about what art really is, a passion and a labor of love.”

The Museum’s philosophy of openness and fostering community extends to its entrance fee–donation only–and its outreach programs, like the colorful painted planters you can see along Walsenburg’s Main and 6th Streets. The Museum also exhibits local artists. Currently on view are Pueblo painter Bobby Valentine and aerial photographer John Wark, as well as Cocchiarelli herself, who’s showing a collection of “mini” paintings along with mini collages by Matt Gonzalez and mini abstract watercolors by Harry Tsuchidana.

While Walsenburg may seem an improbable place for a contemporary art museum, after almost a decade the Museum of Friends is going strong. Berger and Cocchiarelli will celebrate the Museum’s tenth anniversary on October 19th, and have secured grants to renovate the 100-year-old historic building for structural integrity and easier access to the second floor.

Art can mean many things to many people, but it’s the personal stories and connections that bring a photo or drawing or canvas to life. That’s exactly what makes the Museum of Friends such a positive experience: the sense of learning, community, and friendship that infuses the whole museum and makes it a must-see for art lovers of every stripe.

Bobby Valentine: Magical Paintings and John Wark: Aerial Photographs will be on view at the Museum of Friends’ ground floor through October 28, 2017. Minis will be up on the second floor through September 30th. For more information, visit www.museumoffriends.org.

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Colorado

For the Love of Westcliffe, in Photos

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I absolutely love Westcliffe.

I love the people. I love the quiet, small town setting of the Sangre de Cristos. I love the wildness of mountains. I love that it’s still considered “a secret” in this state.

I love the Mennonite bakery with their butter cookies and cinnamon rolls. I love that there is a bowling alley with average food but the most reliable restaurant hours in town. I love the little supermarket and how the cashiers will chat with locals about how they can’t wait til the busy season is over. I love that it’s considered one of the best places in the world to see the stars.

I love (and have to laugh at) the culture here that simultaneously needs and despises tourists. The barely under the surface sense of, “we don’t want things to ever change, so please don’t move here” attitude that most residents and business owners have. And I don’t blame them one bit.   

I love the type of people this place attracts: the pioneers, the fierce independents, the homesteaders & DIYers, the “I’ll figure that out” crowd. Those who don’t want a manicured lawn and cookie cutter home and life.

Most everyone that I know here is fine with friends stopping over for an unplanned meal. I love the church we’ve attended. I love that the people here take care of each other. I love our friends here. They’re like family. I really love that to get anywhere in civilization you have to drive 2+ hours.

I seriously love this place.

I love the mountains. The aspen groves. The pine trees. The endless hiking trails. The peaks. The high mountain lakes. The summers and the winters. And the spring and fall, though those seasons are the shortest. I love the wildflowers. I love the afternoon thunderstorms in the summers. I love the feel and smell when summer starts to fade and autumn is beginning. The aspens start changing and for a few short weeks, the mountainside appears to be on fire.

I love running the Instagram account @WestcliffeColorado because I get to know the creative people who love this place too. I’ve learned that it’s very easy to showcase the best parts about Westcliffe, especially online in a quick snapshot. But in reality, the heart of the town is not only pretty pictures of mountains and pine trees in nice matching squares online.

It’s a town full of hard working people who are extremely passionate about their freedom to live a simple life.

If you want to learn high altitude gardening, how to preserve food, knit, quilt, build a house, build a car, forage in the wilderness, hunt, fish, shear an alpaca and spin the wool, cook,  or live off the grid, this place is crawling with folks who could definitely survive the end of the world just fine.

If you’re looking for a weekend away from the fast-paced constant movement of the city, without the tourism of Breckenridge, Westcliffe might be a good fit for you. Whether it’s hiking up to South Colony Lakes and camping out under the stars after cooking some fish or staying at a bed and breakfast downtown, there is definitely a special charm to this small town.

Westcliffe is full of residents who are eager to preserve its solitude and isolation. So, if you decide to come visit for the weekend, try to find it within yourself to appreciate the occasional cold shoulder and slow-paced culture around town as well as the rugged beauty evident everywhere. The wildness and simplicity of this place will make your soul come alive.

by Hannah Corson, special to PULP

Hannah Corson created and helps moderate the @WestcliffeColorado Instagram account, which features photos from locals and visitors to the region.


Hermit Pass is directly West of town and is one of the tallest passes in the state. If you enjoy four wheel trails with a view this is a great spot to visit! Thats a wrap for me moderating this week, thanks for all the support! We'll be visiting the area in a couple weeks to shoot lots of time-lapse photography so if you see us out and about say hello! – @elemotionphoto Image by: @stephcoffmanphoto Selected by: @elemotionphoto · · · #westcliffecolorado #SummerInTheSangres #coloradotography #offroad #landscapephotography #sunset #mountains #adventureculture #coloradocameraclub #discoverearth #exploretocreate #getoutside #ig_mountains #keepitwild #mountainlife #natgeotravel #travelcolorado #visualsoflife #instagood

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Question for all you Colorado locals & natives: what is your favorite hike in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains? If you want to have some new hiking adventures this summer then tag yourself and a friend, we'll compile a list of the top 5, then tag you in a post telling you the best hikes to try out! Tag your Westcliffe adventures: @westcliffecolorado, #summerinthesangres Image: Dena Smith Woods Selected by: @hannahcorson • • • • • #Westcliffecolorado #visitcolorado #coloradotography #colorfulcolorado #coloradountamed #travelcolorado #optoutside #livethemountainlife #choosemountains #rural_love #photographyislifee #mountainsarecalling #landscape #photoaday #huffpostgram #coloradocollective #coloradophotographers #coloradoinstagram #colorfulcolorado #summerhiking #coloradohikes #hikingislife #14ers #rockymountains #sangredecristomountains #denver #coloradosprings #salidacolorado #pueblocolorado #adventureisouthere

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