Article by Marcia Darnell
Local Artists – May 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine
DENISE Uhleman-Armstrong draws no distinctions between her life and her art. As a journalist, wife, graphic designer, grandmother, community activist, photographer, health nut, poet, and painter, her life is as varied and textured as her work.
“I had a wake-up call a few years ago with health, which I think a lot of people do in their 40s,” she says, “and my philosophy in life is that you have to do what you want to do, and you have to live the days as you can.”
To cram as much as possible into her days, Uhleman-Armstrong is up at 5 a.m., after going to bed at 11 p.m., and she doesn’t watch TV.
“To make all of it work, I set aside time for yoga, I set aside time for hiking, or a photo shoot, so I’m not just working on the paper (the Mineral County Miner), I’m not just working on art.”
She and her husband, artist Jim Armstrong, have lived in Creede for three years. They came from the Divide-Colorado Springs area, where they met. They’ve been married five years.
“l was looking for a place that was very art-minded,” she says. “I think that anytime you have a lot of like minds — other artists to be able to work with and bounce ideas back and forth, the ability to have those offerings, to work with somebody and find whether you like pottery or fiber art before you invest in it, and the fact that there are a lot of artists in the area to bring that kind of energy — benefits you as an artist.”
It’s more than just the arts that keeps her in Creede, though.
“The terrain has inspired me the most,” she says. “There are red rock cliffs, there’s lush foliage, there’s water, there’s all kinds of looks, from Wheeler to the falls. I hike, and within ten minutes I’m within the forest, or on the river. It’s inspiring.”
Inspiration seems to come as naturally as spring wildflowers to Uhleman-Armstrong.
“I studied art since I was a very wee child,” she remembers. “I was very encouraged in my family, to the extent that my mother put up butcher paper, so that when I was a little bitty kid, I could color on the walls. I was allowed.
“I didn’t have limits put on my art. If I was interested in ballet, they allowed it. When I was in third grade, I took charcoal drawing, so all of my life my main focus, my main way of seeing, is in an artistic form.
“I studied different kinds of art. There’s so much that I want to do, that I haven’t done. I mean, I want to make my own tiles in my studio.”
Multi-media art, what Uhleman-Armstrong calls “beyond collage” is perfectly suited to her no-limits philosophy.
“Mixed media I love so much because there are no rules, there are no limits to it,” she says. “It’s a new form, per se, of art, so it’s limitless. I can put real aspen leaves in something, I can put a piece of tin in something if I want to.
“There’s nobody telling me I can’t use watercolor and acrylic and a flat rock in something.”
The best example of this creative melange is “Moonlight Ride,” a painting combining acrylic, watercolor, aspen leaves, horsehair, handcrafted paper, and poetry. Another work contains mica and feathers.
HER BOOK, To Dream is What We Are, is also a multi-media work, and a joint creation with her husband. The cover is made of aspen, which was cut in the Creede area from downed trees, “so it’s ecologically sound,” she says.
The book contains poems by Uhleman-Armstrong and is illustrated by Jim Armstrong. His colored pencil sketches are so sharp they look like photographs.
“This is what I call an inspirational book, because it’s dedicated to my father, who passed away, and my newest grandson, who was born the same day my father was taken to the hospital.”
“Somebody brought up to me that they thought it was very daring to allow people to know your personal thoughts that much.”
Personal thoughts are not all she dares to share. She’s teaching her husband what she can about art. Jim is self-taught at 51. He began drawing only five years ago, and is now selling his work.
“I’m the idea person,” says Uhleman-Armstrong. “I’m helping him to find his artistic eye, to grow further in his work.”
[Gaunt Fox by Jim Armstrong]
Both Armstrongs are showing their art at Creede Health Center through the spring, at Creede Repertory Theatre this summer, and opening their own studio in June.
In addition, Uhleman-Armstrong is vice president of the Creede Arts Council and helped organize last year’s Dia del Rio, a local celebration of art and nature.
Studio-builder, athlete, business owner … Denise Uhleman-Armstrong puts no limits on art or life, and sees no distinction between the two.
“Art is anything that inspires somebody enough to let it out, to show other people, or to state the story to other people,” she says. “Art encompasses a huge range of life, really.”
Marcia Darnell is a writer, clerk, hiker, editor, homeowner, housesitter, volunteer, and catkeeper in Alamosa.