In Leadville, DuPont means more than dynamite

Article by Sharon K. Chickering

Local Artist – July 1997 – Colorado Central Magazin

Art and Mary DuPont sit at a round table in a corner of their southern-facing, second-story front room, sun pouring in through floor-to-ceiling windows which command views of Leadville and the Sawatch Range. Bright red and yellow/orange tomatoes hang from potted plants on the floor.

Over a cup of tea, DuPont avidly talks about art. A compact, wiry man, he pads barefoot through his home pulling out oils, watercolors, and drawings to demonstrate techniques he is explaining. In his small kitchen-like studio, a still-life-in-progress sits on an easel, completed portraits and landscapes are stacked on the floor along the walls, old bottles line a windowsill, and a small transparent human model sits on a shelf.

Downstairs, a bookcase shelf is lined with well-worn sketch books — he doesn’t go anywhere without one, and delights in doing pencil sketches of people. Indeed, DuPont’s forte seems to be faces, the lively essence of which he captures with a few strokes. Studying the faces in his pictures, you are sure you know them from somewhere, and you may — the local priest, the town character, and even DuPont’s own face peering out as one figure or another.

“When I draw in public, including church, it’s not a distraction,” he says. “When you paint, you see things from a different perspective.” Queried about his practice of drawing in church, his mother once explained that he listened with his hands, not his ears.

“I like using live models,” he says, “because otherwise I would miss the subtleties, the play of light and shadows on their faces.” When using a posed model, students often make the mistake of beginning their paintings immediately. DuPont likes to start with some quick sketches, giving the model time to relax and look more natural.

Likewise, he is comfortable drawing in public with people watching over his shoulder. “I know what I have to do. I wouldn’t get the same effect if I tried to draw them later on.”

“Budding artists really need instruction … A lot of people don’t research enough before they start . . You have to know where to put the light… If you take your time, you’ll get something more true to life.”

While DuPont paints few landscapes because he finds it difficult to focus his attention with so many potential scenes around him, Mary modestly shows some beautifully composed photographs she has taken in the Rocky Mountain region. She thinks of offering some for sale in the future.

DuPont would like to be able to give art lessons, especially to young people, but with his current full-time job at the Climax mine, his time is short. He does encourage son Camille, age 12, and daughter Claire, 11, to improve their artistic abilities, but they would often rather be biking, swimming, or wrestling (which DuPont helps coach).

“It’s tough making a living with art, but artists and musicians need never starve — you can always make some money… It’s always in my mind to get back to painting full-time … I don’t do it to get rich. I paint for the enjoyment. When you finish a painting you feel a real exuberance… If I ever get laid off, I could expand my studio.”

Over the years he has also worked as a chimney sweep, security guard, and usher to support himself and his family. In addition, he designs and sells T-shirts from his home or at a street booth during community festivals such as Leadville’s Boom Days.

Born in southern Colorado, his family moved to Leadville when he was about seven. “We had kind of a large family (nine kids).” In the evenings he and his siblings would have contests to see who could draw the best man, car, horse, etc.

“Gradually I took more of an interest in drawing than my brothers and sisters… I found it more and more interesting.”

Following high school and a stint in the military, DuPont studied art and business at Western State College in Gunnison, intending to go into commercial art. After college he traveled and painted in the West Indies, Virgin Islands and Jamaica, then did further study with portrait painter David Leffel, at the Art Students League in New York City and the Arizona School of Art in Phoenix. About ten years ago he spent several months studying informally in Spain, France and England.

“I would like to show (my work) some place now, but finding the right place is difficult … I don’t like it when gallery people limit me. I had pretty good successes at (art) shows in New York… I don’t think I’ve ever been rejected for a show — not even juried shows.”

Leadville’s Old Glory Cafe (222 Harrison Ave.) currently has some of DuPont’s pencil sketches on display. Those interested in more of his work should contact him at home (510 East 11th Street, Leadville; 4860701). Small pencil sketches are priced from $125 and larger oils and watercolors range from about $350 — $2500.

Long winters notwithstanding, DuPont finds no lack of subjects to paint and draw from his Leadville home. And when you least expect it, you could see your own image appear under his pencil or brush in the latest sketchbook.

Sharon K. Chickering lives and writes in Leadville, and remains in awe of anyone who can draw or paint because she can hardly even create a stick figure.