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Steamboat Magazine

Emerging Star of the Art World

09/02/2022 09:00AM ● By Deb Olsen

The watercolor painting “SAM Museum,” by Richie Vios, won the 2020 Plein Air Main Street Steamboat Award of Excellence and Historic Routt County Award of Excellence.

Steamboat Springs, CO - Like so many “overnight sensations,” Steamboat Springs’ emergence as one of the West’s most significant art communities is anything but sudden. Instead, it is built on a foundation as old as the city itself.  

Margaret Crawford, who co-founded Steamboat in 1900, recognized the value of art from the beginning. She taught her children to play the piano, encouraged their painting, kept a diary and even brought yellow roses along on the journey across the frontier from Missouri to Colorado. Those roses still thrive today at Tread of Pioneers Museum and the Yampa River Botanic Park – both shining examples of Steamboat’s dedication to arts and culture.

Since the Crawfords first put down roots here, locals have continued to nourish the arts.  Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield started a dance camp in Strawberry Park more than 100 years ago. Eleanor Bliss and Carol Finnoff, grand ladies who donned “Save the Depot” t-shirts and staged a political movement, established the former train station as the community’s arts center. Linda Laughlin and Sandra Sherrod founded the enormously popular First Friday Artwalk in 2007.  

John Sant’Ambrogio, Betse Grassby and Kay Claggett envisioned a home for classical music in Steamboat and founded Strings in the Mountains, today recognized as one of the nation’s premier summer music festivals. Scott Parker was for more than two decades the face of performing arts in the valley, and helped to form Friends of Yampa Valley Arts, which is on the verge of an exciting collaboration with Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp.

Almost 20 years ago, an enthusiastic group of aficionados envisioned an art museum. In 2004, the city was bequeathed the historic First National Bank building, and Steamboat Art Museum staged its first exhibit two years later. This summer, for the second time in recent years, Steamboat Art Museum hosts the prestigious Oil Painters of America annual exhibit and convention.

Nourishing all of these ambitious endeavors is Kim Keith, the executive director of Steamboat Creates. Under her leadership, the city was designated an official Colorado Creative District in 2017. It’s almost like Kim is channeling Eleanor Bliss as she captains the ‘Boat further into the art world, and she is by no means done. Steamboat Creates is not quite ready to announce its next big step, but it’s mind-blowing. The day will be here soon when Ski Town USA® will be at least as well known as one of the nation’s foremost art communities. 

We hope you enjoy this special edition commemorating the arts in Steamboat Springs.