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Saguache Paints a New Picture: Artists Create Hope for this Historic Town

by Bill Hatcher

The casual visitor to Saguache, Colorado will see ranches, farms and a quaint valley town. But upon closer inspection, you will find a trove of artistic gems that rival those in any metropolitan area. A downtown revitalization project, completed in 2012, gave businesses a chance to recover from the town’s century-old slump. Combined with a rare cadre of artists, the town has begun to attract outside attention. The 5th Annual Saguache Art Festival will showcase artists in downtown Saguache from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23.

Riff and Marilyn Fenton
dinnerrware“I am not an artist. An artist has social responsibilities,” says Roger (Riff) Fenton, longtime resident potter of Saguache. His wife Marilyn explains: “We are functional potters, crafters, and we follow an old tradition.”
The Fentons moved to Saguache in 1979, because the scenery was inspirational and property values were affordable. “Artists always congregate in poorer towns,” says Riff. When I ask if the Saguache art community is on course to become the next Taos or Santa Fe, Riff chuckles and quotes his old friend Mike Neal, “Saguache is just a pass too far.” Yet they think that in the next decade the town’s economy will either improve or sink back into dormancy. The newly revitalized downtown has given it a running chance.
Riff and Marilyn’s pottery is earthy and vibrant, functional yet elegant. It is sold at their Saguache studio address and also at Culture Clash Gallery in Salida. Within Clay Walls (Fenton Studio Pottery), 435 San Juan Avenue, 719-655-2849

Dawn-Bradley-Santa-Fe-2012-2Byron Williams has woven exquisite basketry for over four decades. He began integrating colorful gourd designs into his artwork 25 years ago. Byron first visited Saguache in 1999 because it was centrally located to shows where he sold his art. But he continued to be drawn to Saguache for “its elemental feel and tranquility, and the privacy it afforded,” qualities integral to his work.
He purchased the Smith Market Gallery in Saguache in 2008 and is now a full-time resident. Many of his current pieces combine basketry and gourd-work, as well as local deer and elk antlers. He says his style may unconsciously be affected by Native American traditions, but he never sets out to copy any exclusive style. Rather, he says his art comes to him without prompting or much forethought. And instead of correcting blemishes and asymmetries in the gourds, Byron yields to their organic curves, allowing a piece’s natural brilliance to emerge spontaneously.  Smith Market Gallery, 301 5th Street, 301-938-2876

Early-WinterFor decades, Stacey Amos Holden has painted in a variety of scenic locations – on sailboats, in Key West and North Carolina. Originally from Bermuda, Stacey moved to the Boulder area with her husband and daughter in 2004 and finally to Saguache a few years later. The openness of the valley, rimmed by peaks, appealed to her aesthetic bias. It was also affordable. Since building a home here, she has continued to paint with watercolors, acrylics and oils. Her watercolor “Bloom” won the 2013 Hollyhock Art Award. She describes her signature style as “whimsical,” which comes across in the graceful floral pieces and haunting landscapes she paints. “I like things to flow,” she says, “and I’m not into angles and sharp corners.”
She is excited that Saguache’s art community may be on the cusp of flowering. “It would be great for Saguache to become an art town. The problem is, people just don’t know it’s here. We need more signs out [on the highway] directing people into 4th Street.”
Stacey’s artwork is displayed at the Fenton Studio in Saguache and at the Saguache Visitors Center.
Saguache Visitor Center, 404 and 406 4th Street,, (under construction)

HauckKelsey Hauck and her late husband Doug Pedersen were world travelers – and world-renowned artists – before they moved to Saguache in 1993. Kelsey’s stories of their youth bring to mind smoky beatnik grottos, turtleneck sweaters, espressos and red wine.
Kelsey and Doug met in New York in 1966, where they created education programs for the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art. Doug worked in oil paintings, sculpture, and ink and brush, while Kelsey developed a truly unique approach to figurative expressionist collage. A website quote from Doug: “By painting I want to achieve the ultimate in human transactions: spiritual regeneration …”
After the Whitney, they furthered their study of art in Europe, Mexico and Santa Fe, where they were part of the burgeoning art scene for 10 years. But while Santa Fe’s popularity as an art destination awarded greater income, its crowds and “airport art” drove them away. They moved to Taos but found they were still searching for more space and peace. A friend from Colorado recommended Salida, but property values were too high. Driving back to Taos, they saw a sign for Saguache.
Asked how they were able to build a viable art business in Saguache, she replied, “As Harold Joe Waldrum (a prolific painter and photographer) told us when we were living in Taos, ‘You make this amazing place, so that when people walk in [to your gallery] they are blown away!’” It also helps if the quality of the art is compelling. And Kelsey’s is powerful. “Real art is discovery,” she says, “because it leads you to the next thing. You’re not telling it what to do, it’s telling you.” Hauck/Pedersen Fine Art Gallery, 313 – 315 4th Street,

halburianartOne of Yvonne Halburian’s earliest memories of drawing was as a third-grader at a Catholic school in Verdigre, Nebraska. “I remember the nuns had me draw a nativity scene in chalk on the blackboard. I was always doodling. I guess that’s why they let me do it.”
In 1962, she and her husband Sam joined the Air Force and were stationed in Germany. The magnificent art of the European cathedrals and museums inspired her to invest in her own artistic skills. When they retired from the Air Force in 1976, they moved to Saguache. Says Yvonne, “The valley is conducive to painting, it’s peaceful, and I’m fascinated with the history of the area and its geology.” Her paintings glow with intense contrasts in light and shadow. Various series are devoted to themes in florals, wildlife, landscapes, petroglyphs and nature.
As for selling art in a small town, Yvonne answers, “I have really reasonable prices because people can’t afford [expensive art].” Some of Yvonne’s work is displayed in local murals: at the Post Office, the county courthouse, and at Old Cow Town, west of Saguache on Hwy. 114.
Yvonne’s work has also been displayed at the El Pomar Grand Atrium in the Denver Art Museum. She is the recipient of numerous national art awards. Yvonne Halburian, 719-655-2529, P.O. Box 502, Saguache, CO 81149

Saguache continues to attract new artistic talent: Jane and Duncan Martin are designers/artists from the Midwest, and the Garbini family is soon to arrive from New York. With luck, Saguache may be poised on the verge of an economic renaissance, with artists leading the charge. For more information, go to

Bill Hatcher’s second-grade art teacher wisely suggested he instead try his hand at music and writing. (