Dales Gillan, wood carver, works on the community project in front of the La Veta School of Arts. The project is dedicated to saving a 100-year-old cottonwood tree off Ryus Ave. Photo by Kara Mason
Browsing through the art galleries on La Veta’s Main Street you’ll occasionally hear, “We’re Colorado’s mini Taos.” The Southwest art is seemingly just as prevalent, and almost everybody you run into has some kind of background in art. Even Hwy. 12 from La Veta to Cuchara feels very similar to the High Road to Taos between the tiny art mecca and Santa Fe.
Peggy Zehring and her husband David founded the La Veta School of Arts, which seems to now be the center of the art community, in 2000. “We have been offering creative art experiences for people of all ages ever since,” Peggy said. Workshops at the school range from traditional painting to art welding. Peggy received a fine arts degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago and has been an art teacher since 1977. The following is a conversation with her about “Colorado’s mini Taos.”
PULP: When did the art scene in La Veta really start growing?
Peggy Zehring: Huerfano County has a long artistic tradition. In the 60s many artists moved to communes here from New York City. La Veta has had the Spanish Peaks Arts Council (SPACe) since the 80s, but the scene here really started taking off around 2000 with The La Veta School of the Arts, the expansion of SPACe and many Public Artworks Projects.
PULP:What do you think the big draw is here for artists?
Zehring: Anyone who comes to La Veta is immediately struck by its beautiful setting at the foot of the Spanish Peaks. La Veta itself also has a long and fascinating history.
PULP: Right now there’s a big community project in front of the La Veta School of the Arts. How did that get started?
Zehring: The artists of La Veta claimed what was left of a healthy 100-year-old cottonwood tree after if was taken down in 2013. This spring, the La Veta School of the Arts and the Spanish Peaks Arts Council decided to collaborate making it a Public Artworks Project. A committee was formed which solicited woodcarvers to submit proposals. Dale Gillan’s proposal was selected. Our committee is thrilled with Dale’s work so far and expect to see it finished by fall.
PULP: Are community projects pretty regular and do a lot of people get involved? It seems like almost everybody in La Veta is involved with some aspect of art.
Zehring: You are right. LVSA has sponsored 14 public artworks project banners which have hung on Main Street since 2005 and were originally created by high school students in a collaboration between LVSA and La Veta High School. Now, everyone in La Veta is encouraged to create a banner. In 2007, two local sculptors created two wind-propelled public artworks which hang at both ends of Main Street. Two public works park benches were created by teenagers for the town park in 2001 and 2006. In 2005, 12 grade-school aged children were given nine prepared oil drums to paint for trash collection in La Veta.
Between 2000 and 2008, teenagers painted four outdoor murals, two of which are featured in “The Murals of Colorado: Walls that Speak” by Mary Motian-Meadows and Georgia Garnsey. La Veta also has two bronze sculptures created by a local artist. I believe there is a “walking tour” of La Veta in the making through the chamber of commerce.
PULP: That’s a lot of art. What role does La Veta’s culture play into the economy and tourism?
Zehring: Near the 4th of July every year, SPACe sponsors “Art in the Park” which brings many artists and art-lovers to La Veta. In fact, all spring, summer and fall La Veta has many tourists and art lovers who come to visit the many galleries and see all the public artworks.
PULP: So, do things slow down in the winter?
Zehring: Traditionally, La Veta has a beautiful winter with lots of snow. The artists are happy to be snowed into their studios where they create works for the next tourist season.
PULP: What is the number one thing visitors should know about La Veta’s culture?
Zehring: La Veta loves and welcomes its summer visitors–many of whom have summer cabins here. There are many art classes to take, galleries to visit and even theatrical performances held at the Francisco Theater for the Performing Arts.
PULP: Are there any must-stops you recommend when traveling through La Veta?
Zehring: La Veta’s Main Street should be seen featuring Charlie’s Cash and Carry since the early 1900s with its original ice cream counter and ice cream cones to go. Anyone coming to La Veta should walk Main Street, see the banners, visit the galleries, get an LVSA class schedule and “walking tour guide” from our award-winning library. Also, visit our art-filled public park on Ryus Street.