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Collecting artists in Twin Lakes

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Local Artists – July 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

SOME PEOPLE COLLECT ROCKS. Others accumulate coins or seashells or antique dolls. Sharon Downs “collects” artists–specifically Colorado artists whose work is featured at the High Country Treasures gallery in Twin Lakes.

This summer the gallery showcases the creations of nearly 30 Colorado potters, sculptors, jewelry-makers, painters, photographers, woodcarvers, and glass makers. That the latter is one of Downs’ favorite media is evidenced by the variety of glass lining the shelves and adorning the pine-paneled walls of her gallery.

There is etched, stained, lamp, and hand-blown glass; layered and fused dichroic glass with its shifting, sparkling colors; even golden-hued stained glass shaped into clusters of aspen leaves.

“In autumn, you can’t tell where the glass leaves end and the real leaves begin,” Downs declares. “And the sunlight streaming through the gallery windows makes all the glass really come alive and enhances its richness.”

Gallery owner Sharon Downs with two pieces of etched glass.
Gallery owner Sharon Downs with two pieces of etched glass.

Downs, a photographer whose own color shots of mountains and local landscapes appear in a line of gallery greeting cards, has rather unique criteria for choosing artists. “I go by their personalities and whether their work speaks to me,” she explains. “If I can smile at it, if it pleases and warms me, then they’re here.”

“I love the work of all ‘my’ artists,” Downs adds. “And I’m just in awe of the creative process, the way a person can take a lump of clay or a blob of glass and turn it into something beautiful and extraordinary.”

Central Colorado artists are well-represented at High Country Treasures, which includes the work of Twin Lakes photographer Cornelia Patti, stained-glass artists Patty and Bill Lundberg, jewelry-maker Owen Plymell, and watercolorist (and summer resident) Eleanor Staab; along with Leadville glass artists Bob and Chrystal Wisner; the Salida duo of painter Elizabeth Rothwell and “Potter Bob” Crosthwait; and potters Maria Weber and Jim Bassett, a husband-and-wife team from Buena Vista.

Weber and Bassett, whose affection for felines is evident in their popular line of mugs, pitchers, and casserole dishes decorated with faces of contented-looking cats, have been with Downs from the day she opened her gallery in 2003.

“They believed in me from the get-go,” Downs says. “That first year, nobody [in the artistic community] knew me. If it wasn’t for Maria and Jim’s work, I don’t know how I would have gotten my foot in the door.”

NOW, REPEAT CUSTOMERS enter the gallery eagerly seeking the latest “cat-face” pieces. “Last year, a car pulled into the parking lot and I heard this woman’s voice yelling, ‘I see it! I see it!'” Downs recalls. “I got worried that something might be wrong, so I dashed outside and asked, ‘What do you see?’ and she replied, ‘The cats! I see the cats!'”

High Country Treasures also houses work by such artists as Mike Paulson of Fort Collins, who carves vases and bowls from aspen wood obtained from fallen trees (“He will not kill a tree to make a vase,” Downs notes admiringly); David and Dana Cuin of Evergreen, whose multi-layered and fused dichroic glass decorated with golden aspen leaves “. . . just flies out the door; I don’t even have to sell it,”; and Jeff and CJ Hanson of Bailey, who produce hand-crafted wood items on a pedal-powered scroll saw. “It’s unusual to find a woman working in wood,” Downs says of CJ Hanson. “That’s often more of a man’s medium.”

DOWNS HAPPILY DISCUSSES her artists’ creations with interested customers, pointing out details in various pieces and offering insight into each artist’s background and technique. She maintains a collection of business cards and printed information on the artists and their work, which she tucks in with purchases as a kind of bonus.

“It’s a way to help people better understand, appreciate, and enjoy the creative process behind the work they’ve purchased,” she explains.

A native New Englander who moved to Colorado in 1972, Downs has an eclectic professional background that ranges from teaching high school English and running a television-repair and satellite business to serving as a home health-care provider, emergency medical technician, and practitioner of alternative medicine.

“I truly believe that light, healing, and art are all connected,” Downs affirms. “Looking at visual art, listening to Mozart or Beethoven, reading Shakespeare, all these art forms move and transform us and raise our spiritual awareness. I really think that art enlightens and blesses us and makes the world a better place.”

So when she decided to open an art gallery in the hamlet of Twin Lakes, which has a year-round population of less than three dozen residents, she had no doubt of its success.

“Sure, Twin Lakes is known as a camping, hiking, and fishing spot,” says Downs, a village resident since 1993. “But I thought, ‘Why not an art gallery?’ A gallery here would be very new and different.”

High Country Treasures gallery in Twin Lakes
High Country Treasures gallery in Twin Lakes

A gallery on Colorado Highway 82 at Twin Lakes would also attract summer traffic traveling to and from Aspen via 12,095-foot Independence Pass, the nation’s highest paved pass. From late May to late October, this highway–which is always closed in winter due to heavy snowfall–is a popular shortcut between Aspen and Colorado’s front range cities, sometimes handling more than 2,000 vehicles per day. But even though the route decreases driving distance between tiny Twin Lakes and tony Aspen to just 38 miles, the gap in prices and attitudes separating these two former frontier-mining communities is not quite so easily bridged.

“My gallery is a place for people who want something beautiful, but can’t afford to spend a gazillion dollars,” Downs grins. “Visitors often stop in, look around, and say they’re going on to Aspen to shop. A few hours later, they’re back, saying, ‘I couldn’t afford to shop in Aspen, but I saw something here this morning that I really like and now I want to buy it.'”

“Once a couple that purchased a piece of art here told me, ‘We never imagined we’d find anything of this quality in such a Podunk town,'” Downs remembers. “And I thought, ‘It’s true; this is a Podunk town.’ But so what? That doesn’t mean we can’t make it affordable for people to have beautiful things in their homes.”

TOWARD THAT END, the treasures housed at High Country Treasures range in price from $3.95 for a greeting card and $5 for a small piece of pottery to almost $600 for large stained-glass panels. This broad price range reflects a marketing strategy that is proving successful; from the gallery’s first year of operation to its second, volume almost doubled.

And the gallery’s manmade creations only complement and enhance the area’s natural scenic “art” of soaring peaks, shimmering lakes, and tranquil valleys.

“This is an uplifting, spiritual place,” Downs says. “It has a presence; it’s sacred ground. Living here, being part of this, is the realization of a dream. And now, with my gallery, I’m surrounded by art both inside and outside.”

And if it’s true that, in the words of novelist Henry Miller, “Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life,” then there’s a whole lot of meaning to be found at the High Country Treasures gallery.

High Country Treasures gallery is located at 6531 Highway 82, Twin Lakes, CO 81251. The gallery is open through October 31, 2005. Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Telephone, 719-486-8347; e-mail,

Lynda La Rocca lives and writes nearby in Twin Lakes.