San Luis Valley, Colorado
Everything’s bigger out West - the sky, the land and the clouds. At the very edge of Colorado before you slip over the line in to New Mexico near Taos, lies a valley the size of Connecticut. Ancient and vast, the San Luis Valley is just a small part of Colorado. Surrounded by the impressive Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountain ranges, the isolated plain is dotted with historic towns and forts where legends like Kit Carson and Jack Dempsey lived. It is also home to the dramatic Great Sand Dunes National Park. An interesting mix of cultures live side by side with abundant wild life. It is strikingly beautiful and very windy. Artists are starting to gravitate there, bringing with them a sense of excitement and hope for the economic development of the area.
In the bottom right hand corner of the valley lies the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis. Art has been in the air for some time with, among other artists through the years, sculptor, Huberto Maestas, a San Luis native and creator of the town’s Stations of the Cross Shrine.
On the atmospheric old main street, Ventero Open Press Fine Art opened their doors a couple of years ago with admirable intentions. They operate the only non-profit printmaking facility in the Upper Rio Grande Region. As well as the print making and studio rental with lessons, the organization encompasses a fine art gallery featuring regional artists, an espresso bar and they have open-mike entertainment evenings. Ventero is the brain child of Randy Pijoan, an energizer bunny-type and renown artist. Pijoan - with a dedicated board and volunteer force behind him, “it’s all a team effort,“ he insists - is determinedly trying to help children and underprivileged students in the area get ahead through art. And from the couple of youngsters I met, who showed me their creations with pride, it’s working. I spent two days learning the art of monoprints with Pijoan. It was a fascinating and exciting experience. I’d not worked with prints in any form before. I found it a wonderfully creative adventure.
It’s obvious the area has been an inspiration for art for years, the architecture alone in many places is an art form. Antonito is known as a town of murals. Alamoso is also looking towards the arts. There are art galleries, murals and the Adams State College has hosted art exhibits and talks, some in conjunction with Ventero.
More artistic types are moving north because of rising costs of Taos and Sante Fe in New Mexico and for the peace of the San Luis Valley. Artists are also exploring the areas around the tiny hamlets of Jaroso and Mesita.
Although it’s not in the valley, neighboring La Veta located at the base of the Spanish Peaks is another burgeoning art town. The Pinon Hill Pottery, home base for artist Nicole Copel and the La Veta Fine Art Gallery are great galleries to wander through. For a small town it also boasts the La Veta School of the Arts, a non-profit organization and the Spanish Peaks Arts Council. They also organise the La Veta/Cuchara Open Studio Tour once a year showcasing the many artists in the area.