Essay by Marcia Darnell
Local arts – September 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
I learned two things at the second annual Saguache County Handmade Tour last year:
1. There is an abundance of creative talent in Saguache County, particularly in the visual arts.
2. There is a dearth of organizational talent in Saguache County, particularly in promoting the Handmade Tour.
Two days before the event, I hadn’t read or heard anything about it in Alamosa. A local artist told me White Eagle Village in Crestone had information. My traveling companion and I made it our first stop on the tour.
A small room in the village was home to just a few pieces, but good ones. Safiya’s renditions of spirit figures in marker complemented the sculptures of Barbara Hoeppner, and Angela Manno’s visions of humanity cozied up to the landscapes of Betty Adkins Gest.
I was surprised at how small the display was. I almost missed Hoeppner’s exhibit — it was maybe four feet square and contained only a few pieces. As it turned out, that was normal.
According to the promotional sheet, there were several studios in the labyrinth that is the Baca Grande, but no map was provided for those stops. Apparently, some artists refuse to leave their own lairs for the event — screw customer convenience.
We did find Sacred Earth Gift Shop. Displayed there were just pieces normally carried on consignment, including Gary Olson’s meditation benches and the puppets of Marcia Lynne Cowell. The Desert Sage Restaurant held only a couple of J.D. Marston prints and a few woven bags and vests by DeAnna Elliott.
The Sage Stop Inn in Moffat was the next stop. Surprise! Innkeeper Victoria Bingham told us she had no art on display, and had no idea why her B&B was listed on the map. On to Villa Grove.
The Escuela Gallery, home of Jeff and Amber Shook’s weaving and pottery, was virtually empty. Their own work was in other galleries and they didn’t carry other artists’ pieces.
Nearby Southwest Station, though, had a plethora of artwork. Owners Clarissa and Jonni Busche erected a tent outside their shop to display their fringed and beaded shirts, denim and leather pieces, and jewelry. Elizabeth Rothwell was there too, ensconced in her handmade gypsy wagon. She showed us her acrylic paintings and the ceramics she produces with partner Bob Crosthwait.
My friend and I then trekked to Saguache. Our first two stops, the Oasis Restaurant and the museum (admission $1.50) had no Tour art on display.
We were directed to nearby Otto Mears Park (not on the map) and there we found the Mother Lode. Artists and their works filled the park and community center.
Mary Jones’ potpourri dolls and Mary Jo Weeks’ wreaths. Suzanne Frazier’s drawings and knitted works. Katrina Vosburgh’s needlepoint and Western art in pencil. Carvings, paintings and even baked goods filled the hall.
Also in attendance was Margaret Finnerty, a member of the county Lodging Tax Board, which was in charge of the Handmade Tour. She said the board spent $2,000 promoting the show.
“We were on the radio and we had an ad in the (San Luis) Valley Courier,” she said. “We also advertised in Boulder, Denver, Walsenburg, and Montrose.”
I later checked with friends in Boulder and Denver, who’d heard nothing about the Handmade Tour.
Finnerty admitted that the radio promotion was exclusive to the San Luis Valley’s public radio station, which started advertising the show the day before it began.
I asked about the locations that displayed no artwork.
“We were trying to promote the restaurants and lodging in the county,” she said.
Finnerty said the board received several complaints in 1994 about the lack of organization of the tour. Given the poor promotion in 1995, I’m surprised there were any tourists to complain. Attendance was sparse and several artists muttered about the low turnout.
The show is planned for the third weekend in September this year as well. I hope the organizers get their act together by then. Otherwise the tour will be another exercise in frustration for tourists and participants alike.
This year, organizers expect better results, since they will charge a fee to participants, rather than just letting them sign up.
For information about this year’s Saguache County Handmade Tour, call 1-800-835-7254.
Marcia Darnell put 170 miles on her car for this story.