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Steamboat Magazine

A Sense of Place

09/22/2023 07:00AM ● By Linden Butrym
(Photo: "Dragonflies” by Sandy Graves and Denise Bohart Brown features bronze bodies with fused glass wings. Courtesy of Trey Mullen.) 

From Steamboat Magazine Outdoors Edition 2023. 

Steamboat Springs, CO - As the folds of the new work by Steamboat weaver Wendy Kowynia unfurled in the stairway of the new Routt County Public Health and Human Services building, excitement peaked. “Having lived here for 30 years and being a working artist here, opportunities that feature local artists are few and far between,” Wendy says. “When they exist, it’s so exciting for local artists.” 

Works by 10 local artists, plus an installation by a group of fifth-grade students, now have a permanent home in the new 16,000 square-foot space. The building, on the corner of Sixth and Oak streets, was designed by local firm Mountain Architecture Design Group. Talk of installing a permanent art exhibit started in the fall of last year, when the county, along with Steamboat Creates, began exploring ways to inspire visitors and showcase the creative talents of Steamboat artists. 

(“Potting Shed” is a trompe l’oeil-style mural installation created with acrylic paint and wood, by Madeleine Burrough and David Winters. Courtesy of Trey Mullen.) 


“This project in particular,” Wendy says, “to specifically choose local artists and also to look for more contemporary and abstract work – they really went out on a limb.” Meant to reflect the human condition, the art relates to the clean, modern building.

“Community, place and artists have an intimate relationship,” says Kim Keith, executive director of Steamboat Creates. “Having thought-provoking art by local artists in a building that serves their community, further connects one to the other.” 

Drawing on the building’s purpose – to enhance the well-being of community members – the exhibit’s theme became “The Human Condition.” It celebrates self-expression, belonging and, with a playful nod to nature, explores how people interact with and observe the world around them. The artists’ call was met with a response from men and women throughout the county, who submitted contemporary works in various mediums. Ultimately, 10 finalists plus a group of fifth-grade students from Steamboat Springs elementary schools were selected. 

Wendy took her love of water and translated it into 12 14”x24” panels woven from silk and paper yarn, dyed in natural Japanese indigo, and painted with watercolor pigment. The work, titled “Sea of Clouds,” softly cascades down a stairwell. 

(“Sea of Clouds” by Wendy Kowynia is made from handwoven silk, paper, indigo dye and watercolor pigment. Courtesy of Trey Mullen.)

“I love water in all its forms,” Wendy says. “I love living in a place where water also exists as snow. I love the way water reflects. It’s just my element.” Although the textiles themselves don’t move, Wendy says that her work does have a calm, kinetic, water-like quality. 

Jill Bergman created two series of linocuts with watercolor, “The Mother Earth” and “The Caretakers,” depicting women caring for nature and celebrating the beauty of the planet. Carving each linocut in her home studio was a contemplative process that took two weeks. 

“Linocuts are made by carving into a sheet of artist linoleum, like making a woodblock print,” Jill says. “Then I inked the raised image, laid paper over it and ran it through an etching press that applies pressure. Once they were dry, I painted them with watercolor. This technique lets me make a small edition of hand-painted original prints.”

A longtime advocate for the environment, Jill donates $100 to a nonprofit organization each time she sells her work. “Since the Health and Human Services building now has two pieces, I got to donate to both the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Friends of the Yampa, two of my favorite local environmental groups,” she says. 

(The ceramic tile installation “Different Drops, One River” was made by Steamboat Springs students. Courtesy of Trey Mullen.)

Works by Julie Anderson, Cyndi Marlowe, Simone White, Madeleine Burrough, David Winters, Chloe Wilwerding, Denise Bohart Brown and Sandy Graves are also part of the collection, on display in public areas of the building’s interior. The elementary schools’ “Youth Identity,” a ceramic tile installation, offers a young, vibrant perspective on living in Steamboat. Each artwork serves as a visual reminder of the importance of discovering a sense of place. 

“I hope visitors feel welcome,” Kim says. “Also, curious, amused and delighted. I hope they will develop a deeper connection to this community and the people who call it home.”