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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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Arts & Culture

Soul mates: An interview with Colorado’s in/Planes

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On “Radio Wave,” Pueblo indie-soul duo isn’t interested in being put in any box other than their own.
I feel the need to take a quick second to clear something up—I watched the band in/PLANES get married. Not for this article, mind you; the ceremony was years ago. I have been friends with musical and otherwise soulmates Inaiah Lujan and Desirae Garcia for over a decade at this point (due in no small part I’m sure to our mutual enthusiasm and passion for local music). As a result, I have had the opportunity to bear witness as not only their music but also relationship has burst and bloomed into multiple amazing endeavors. Whether it was their passionate and spirited take on Dustbowl-era Americana as members of folk revivalists the Haunted Windchimes or the wonderfully intimate lo-fi solo albums the both of them have released over the years, these two have a continually impressive musical output and a charm that I have always been excited to delve into. Hell, they even played in my basement once upon a time.

But none of them have struck me quite the same way as in/PLANES has. “Radio Wave,” their first full-length offering via Denver indie record label GROUPHUG, is something altogether different; something wondrously unique. It could be their voices. THOSE voices—honeyed and harmonious—especially whilst entwined in the duets that frequent the songs of in/PLANES. It could be the melodies they create—a riding-high blend of 50’s sha-la-la doo-wop, 60’s sunshine pop and indie-birthed soul—that feels distinctly pop without the trappings of sounding glossy or over-produced. Where tons of modern indie acts are ready to make a loud racket, in/PLANES instead opts to let the grooves play out sparsely and intimately, with inviting musicianship and vocal performances that envelop the space surrounding them. Whether live in concert or in the car, the music of in/PLANES holds on tightly and never lets go.

PULP: It’s weird trying to formally interview you guys; being friends makes it weird to ask you questions in a regular way.

Inaiah Lujan (guitar/vocals): That’s okay.

Desirae Garcia (bass guitar/vocals): We’ll be semi-formal.

IL: Business casual. (laughs)

I did do some research though, and I realized that in/PLANES has been around for longer than I remembered. But this new album is your first full length?

IL: Yeah. This is our first formal release that isn’t an EP. And also first physical release. There is some intention with that. You know that we are champions of analog stuff; Cassette tapes are my first love; I grew up making mixtapes. And CD’s have always felt pointless to me, but for so long we played the game because you used to HAVE to have CD’s on the merch table. But this band has been pretty vocal about our disdain for CD’s; “Radio Wave” is only going to be available on cassette. You’ll get a digital download with purchase of the tape.

Speaking of which, what does the name “Radio Wave” mean in regard to the band?

DG: It’s a line from the song “Why Didn’t You,” a song that is actually not on the record. (laughs). But it’s the very first in/PLANES song we ever wrote. We wrote that song, and it felt like it was part of a totally different project; it felt different than anything we were doing. So maybe it’s a nod to the beginning of the project. We like to think of the song as kind of a breadcrumb to where we are at now.

IL: The benefit of this band is getting to take our time with things; to be more intentional. So now we have been releasing stuff retroactively. The EP we released just last month is stuff we had recorded from our apartment; “Radio Wave” is stuff we put together with Adam Hawkins from Right Heel Music and our drummer Carl Sorensen, and we already have another album in the works.

For me, it also has dual meaning; in/PLANES seems to always create this kind of duality. “Radio Wave” also musically reminds me of when people were only listening to the radio. It kind of plays to idea of this vintage-pop genre we’re kind of going with.

DG: That’s also the music that this record is really inspired by.

IL: The EP feels like kind of a sampler or mixtape for what we’re all about, but this full length is more focused; a little more of that classic pop sound. It’s a fitting title for sure.

DG: Also it’s 1,000,000% love songs; which is bad and good. (laughs)

When you wrote “Why Didn’t You,” did it feel like a song intentionally for a new project?

IL: I think it just presented itself that way; I had been toying around with some chords, and I had been trying to write a song and I didn’t know where to start with melody or lyrics, so I had Desi help me out and it came together really quickly.

In doing so, we realized that we hadn’t collaborated in that way with just the two of us since the beginning of the Haunted Windchimes. At that point, the ‘Chimes had already become four contributing songwriters and had developed a strong formula; in that way it felt like not exactly a departure, but something new that we could try and explore on our own.

DG: It came out really naturally and organically. And it didn’t fit anywhere, either with the ‘Chimes songs or solo songs.

Do you feel like fans of the ‘Chimes and your solo efforts are following you down this path?

IL: I think so. We are all taking a break with the ‘Chimes for now, but we haven’t officially announced that to our fans, so sometimes we’ll get messages asking where we’ve been and why haven’t they heard any news about the band. So maybe some people are a little resistant to it. I don’t know.

DG: It sounds different enough so that some people aren’t going to be into it, which is okay. The other day, someone left a comment on the Windchimes Facebook page asking about us, and another person commented back saying “you should check out in/PLANES and (Haunted Windchimes member Mike Clark’s) the River Arkansas” and the first person commented back “We just like ‘Chimes’ style music,” which is okay! You don’t have to follow us everywhere.

IL: The great thing about being an artist and a musician is the ability to shift gears and follow rabbits down different holes. And with in/PLANES, we’re already trying to get out of our own box and comfort zone. But the common thread that ties it all is that we write all of the songs together, and we wear our influences on our sleeves.

So if you had to explain what you think in/PLANES sounds like, what would you say?

DG: That is my least favorite question, because it’s so hard to explain. The shortcut i usually go for is throwback, vintage pop with some rock tendencies. And if they’re listening after that, then I’ll just keep talking until they walk away, because it’s so difficult to answer.

But like to go with vintage-pop, because if someone says rock & roll, I don’t feel attached to that. We write pop music; all the formulas, the lack of formulas…

IL: It does feel like something you would turn on the radio and hear in the 50’ or 60’s to me, but our modern influences still sneak in; we’re both big fans of hip-hop and country music, and it all gets in one way or another.

DG: Digital drums are where we lose a lot of people. They’re like “WHAT? Is that a digital drum?” And I’m like, “Yup, it is.” (laughs) It’s those 808 beats.

The electronics are really subtle in your songs though.

IL: I think so too. I think we just want to be able to write a song without putting it in a box, you know? But at the same time, making sure to trim all of the fat; which may be contradictory.

We’re not trying to write complex songs. I don’t like to have any rules, but I do like to set limitations on myself; almost like limiting your color pallette if you’re a painter.

DG: Not to be pigeonholed, but also maintain some cohesion. Present yourself in a way people can understand. I don’t like to tell people what genre of music we are, but it is helpful for us; it makes us more focused.

IL: Knowing where the line or limitation is and knowing how far we can push it over causes a tension we like to work under. It’s good tension.

DG: You can’t put me in a box—only I can put me in a box!

“Radio Wave” from in/PLANES is out 5/3 on cassette via GROUPHUG records, with a slew of release shows and a digital release to come soon thereafter. For full dates and info, head to inPlanes.com

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Arts & Culture

The Exotic Strangeness of the Americas on display at CS Fine Arts Center

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This month the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center premiers a modest collection of Haitian paintings and sculptures titled, “The Art of Haiti: Loas, History, and Memory.” Though the exhibit suffers from some organizational problems, it still provides a fascinating look into a country whose rich culture and fiercely independent people belie its difficult past.

Haiti: land of fire and land of mountains. The first black republic in the world and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a country of extremes, colorful, noisy, in-your-face and uncompromising. That unsinkable spirit is reflected in its unique art, which is famous all over the world for its vibrance, joy, energy, and creativity.

The FAC’s “Art of Haiti” touches upon three common themes in Haitian art: voodoo (the “loas” mentioned in the title, which are voodoo spirits), historical scenes, and scenes of daily life around the island. There are paintings, sculptures, multimedia pieces, and installations, but unfortunately no prayer flags, which are probably the most popular Haitian art form currently on the market.

Strangely, The Art of Haiti works backwards from the most recent and modern art, ending with examples of artists who helped jump-start the Haitian Renaissance. Therefore it’s best to go against the flow set out by the curators and start the exhibit in the last gallery, gradually working your way back towards the beginning.

The Haitian Art Renaissance began in the mid-1940s, when an American watercolorist named Dewitt Peters opened a gallery, the Centre d’Art, in Port-au-Prince. What set Peters’ gallery apart was his collection of artists, which included both formally trained and self-taught, or “naïve,” painters.

It was these untrained artists who eventually became famous all over the world for their unique painting style. Like Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Haitian naïve painting captures daily life and events using simple lines, vivid colors, and flattened, patterned backgrounds. The charm and exuberance of these works feels at once very non-Western, and yet very accessible. The style appeals to a vast array of artists and collectors, from André Breton to Jonathan Demme.

You can see several pieces by some of the most famous Haitian Renaissance painters at the FAC (although the superstar of the bunch, Hector Hippolite, is not represented). Wilson Bigaud’s “Gede at the Graveyard,” and Antoine Obin’s “La Viste,” are perfect examples of scenes of daily life. Both Obin and Bigaud are able to tell a whole story in one non-narrative scene, contrasting a dark subject (death) with bright colors and a ton of movement and visual interest; or balancing a happy subject (a visit) with a softer palate and simplified, linear composition.

Michel Obin’s “Battle at the Ravine at Couleuvres,” meanwhile, is a visually complex history painting depicting a scene from the brutal slave rebellion that led to the nation of Haiti. His use of patterning in the trees and fields is particularly outstanding. That same technique and tradition is continued with a contemporary twist in the works of Tessa Mars, on the wall catty-corner to Obin’s piece.

Also of note in this gallery are the metal sculptures placed in the corners of the room. These represent a unique Haitian art form, first popularized by George Liautaud in the 1950s, where artists hammer out old oil drums to create loas figures and crosses for graves.

The Haitian Renaissance artists like Hippolite and Philomé Obin didn’t follow a particular school or style of art. Instead, they creatively searched for ways to express themselves and their culture. Today some contemporary artists adhere to their “naïve,” linear, and hand-painted style, while others–called the moderns–reject the Cap-Haitien style of painting in favor of the art schools and styles of the US and Europe. Nevertheless, the work of the moderns has the same vibrancy of color, historicism, voodoo influence, and vitality that can be found in the art of the naïves.

One of these artists, seen in the next gallery down, is Edouard Duval-Carrié. His multimedia series called Memory Windows uses layers of colored glass and resin, along with images and objects, to create kaleidoscopic pieces that are like puzzle boxes of Haitian history and culture. “Memory Window #1,” for example, has portraits of Haiti’s native Taíno people decimated by disease after Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola. These portraits also include Toussaint L’Ouverture, the revolutionary general who’s considered the father of Haiti, who is kind of like the Haitian version of George Washington. Up close the Memory Windows reward viewers with details and surprises; farther back they take on the appearance of organic forms, like split cells or skulls.

Another modern artist with numerous pieces in The Art of Haiti is Ralph Allen. Although born in Haiti, he emigrated to New York at a relatively young age to escape the reign of Haiti’s Duvalier dictators, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc.” Much of Allen’s work addresses the terror of the Duvalier years and the ongoing political, social, and environmental problems in Haiti. His pieces are lyrical, blending images together in a flowing pattern that pulls viewers in like a visual maze. Sometimes the effect is sensuous, as with “Mistress Erzuile;” at other times it conveys violence or horror.

Although laid out somewhat confusingly and in desperate need of better signage, “The Art of Haiti: Loas, History, and Memory” provides a good introduction to the art and creativity of this unique country and the indomitable spirit of the people who live there.

The Art of Haiti will be at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center February 10-May 20, 2018. For more information please visit www.csfineartscenter.org.

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Beer

Fresh pressed: Cider comes to Colorado’s Apple Valley

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A long, winding drive through the mountains on the way back from Grand Junction gave Kevin Williams time to reflect and think about his future. Inspired by a brewery he had recently visited, Williams was racking his brain for a way to incorporate a location or aspect related to Pueblo into a nano brewery he had long planned to open. And as the winding roads continued to clear Williams’ thoughts, it hit him: Penrose is known as Apple Valley. Why not open a cidery there?

Kevin Williams, former brewmaster at Walter’s Brewery in Pueblo, wants to put Penrose on the beer map with his Apple Valley Cider.

A week later he mentioned the random idea to his dad, who a few days later had a building picked out for him just off of Highway 115 next door to Broadway’s Bar & Grill. Starting with a blank space, the building owner worked with Williams and has built the location to fit the needs of a cidery.

Floor drains have been installed, a large walk-in cooler has been constructed, and an office is in place. A few more finishing touches and Williams will begin making cider under the aptly named brand Apple Valley Cider. His current plan is to have bottles of his three ciders: a semi-sweet, peach, and black currant on store shelves near the beginning of February.

No stranger to what it takes to come up with craft recipes, execute on the tasty ideas, and then market and sell, William’s started his professional brewing career at Walter’s Brewing in Pueblo. He has since moved on, citing the desire to move from employee to owner of his own business as the main reason.

Williams has been experimenting and making cider almost from day one of his homebrewing days, and has continued to do so even when he moved on to brewing professionally. It has been a learning process, but one that he feels has led up to the point where he’s ready to share with the outside world.

Brewing beer and making cider are similar in a few ways, namely starting with a sugary substance that you add yeast. However, the process is vastly different when it comes to the amount of labor required during the brewing process itself. Instead of long, hot, and heavy brewing sessions where larger burners and heavy bags of grain are required, making cider consists of mixing juice with water, adding some yeast, and waiting for nature to do its thing. That may be a bit simplified, but you get the point.

The more intense part of the process is going to be bottling and kegging cider for distribution. Currently, Williams plans to distribute everywhere he can within an hour drive of Penrose. So, that means Pueblo County, El Paso County, and Fremont County. Salida and Buena Vista will potentially be included in the first round of cities he will self-distribute in.

As a member of the Steel City Brewers homebrew club, I’ve known Williams for a couple of years now. During that time, I’ve had the chance to taste some of his ciders. More recently, he started asking the club to taste what (unknown to us at the time) would soon become his first three cider variations for Apple Valley Cidery. Over the course of several months and several iterations, I tasted ciders that went from decent to OMG YOU NEED TO SELL THIS.

Apple Valley Cider

The semi-sweet cider has plenty of apple flavor with a pleasant amount of sweetness. The peach cider is, in not so many words, delicious. It tastes exactly like the peach candy rings you can get from a convenience store—only better. It’s not overly sweet, and the peach is clearly present from start to finish. As for the black currant cider, there’s a notable tartness to the cider that’s rather enjoyable.

Apple Valley Cider won’t have a formal taproom. Instead, the Broadway’s Bar & Grill next door will serve as an informal taproom where you can try out any of the currently available ciders. Williams will have a grand opening party and special tastings as new flavors are released in the front room of Apple Valley Ciders.

Speaking of special tastings, Williams is working with Jenkins Farms to create a special release Apple Valley Cider made with apples from the Jenkins’ orchard. Exact details and timing are still being worked out, but I could tell by the excitement on his face that it’s going to be big.

If you want to keep tabs on Apple Valley Cider, like the Facebook page where Williams will post more details about his impending launch and release party.

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