Yvonne Halburian: Mapping her way through life

Article by Nancy Ward

Local Artists – May 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

WHAT DO AIR FORCE RADAR, goose eggs, maps, flowers, rocks, Spanish explorers, Ute Indians and books have in common?

The answer — Yvonne Halburian, dynamic artist of exceptional versatility, jolly disposition, and enough enthusiasm and energy to power a rocket. The Saguache artist is a popular figure throughout Central Colorado, the Front Range, and the San Luis Valley.

Though she’d long had a desire to work in fine arts, after high school Yvonne enlisted for a four-year stint in the Air Force, becoming a radar mechanic.

Later she married career Airman Simon “Sam” Halburian. Two children, eleven states, and three years in Germany passed before it became possible to seek an artistic career.

In 1962, Yvonne was exposed to the work of Old World masters during Sam’s military tour of duty in Germany. It lit her smoldering artistic fire, causing her to begin formal art training. On her return to the states, she continued her training, often interrupted by transfers. She studied in Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.

As a professional, Yvonne first concentrated on oil painting. After Sam’s retirement, the couple moved in 1976 from Phoenix to Saguache, where winters are sometimes long and cold, and houses must be closed tight for warmth. This necessitated a change to less toxic acrylic paints, Yvonne says, and finally to transparent watercolor.

Her focus was flowers and the varied natural beauty found on long hikes with her husband in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains. The style, beauty, clarity and sensitivity of her paintings soon earned inclusion in numerous juried shows, and awards such as Best of Show and Purchase Award.

By 1989, Halburian had completed a series of forty-five watercolors, “Elements in Time,” depicting the “nature sculptures” she found in the mountains, mostly around Mill Creek west of Saguache. “Elements in Time” is her interpretation of the colors and forms seen in rocks, fallen trees, and tree roots. For showing, each painting was accompanied by Sam’s descriptive poetic words.

First showing for “Elements in Time” was at the Hatfield Gallery at Adams State College in Alamosa.

In early 1990, Yvonne was invited to show “Elements” at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte where she was expected to lecture about the exhibit. Being a perpetual student and perfectionist, she decided that her lecture should include information about the geology of the area she had painted including the history of various stages of nature from volcanic activity to the effects of water and wind. And she also decided to include a map of the area where her work had been concentrated.

That map sent her down a new road. Immediately the museum wanted a map for its San Luis Valley Trails display.

So it was by accident that Yvonne has become a much sought-after mapmaker. Though she still paints and has other art projects, today Yvonne works mostly with various size black drafting pens — making permanent the work she first draws with pencil.

Mapping comes easily to Yvonne. As designated navigator during the frequent family moves and travels associated with military life, “I always seemed to have a map in my hand and head.”

For the multitalented artist, there was no problem switching from map reader to mapmaker. “Map making is very educational,” Yvonne says. “I do a lot of research to insure accuracy.” Tracking down old trails and specific historic and geographic locations is no paltry task, and it’s time consuming. But she enjoys sharing what she learns.

Yvonne had barely completed her mapping for the museum when approached by Del Norte scholar and author, Ruth Marie Colville. Colville requested a series of four maps for her book, La Vereda, a Trail Through Time.

The book and maps cover the 1694 travels of Don Diego de Vargas, Spain’s Governor of New Mexico, who restored New Mexico for Spaniards following the 1668 Pueblo Indian uprising. His trail went from Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico into the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Documented are points around Taos where the Governor found food for his people.

Yvonne’s next projects were for Ron Kessler’s books about the Old Spanish Trail. She mapped several routes, one being the trail of Don Juan Batista de Anza’s 1779 campaign from Santa Fe, through the San Luis Valley, over Ute Pass and beyond.

For another of Kessler’s books, Yvonne mapped the Old Taos Trail — a trappers’ circuit, and the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.

HALBURIAN’S NEXT MAP was of Los Caminos Antiguos (The Ancient Road), in the southern part of the San Luis Valley from the New Mexico border to the Great Sand Dunes, an area first used by early Spanish settlers. The route is designated by the SLV Trails/Recreation Coalition, which encourages tourists to travel via the signed route. Yvonne’s map for the Coalition includes her drawings — conquistadors, an Indian buffalo hunt, gold panning, sheep herding and more.

Still another map accompanied the story of the Saguache-Milton area. Titled “Saguache Beginnings,” the story by Frances McCullough used material from Anna Woodard’s memories, and was published in the San Luis Valley Historian, Summer 1995 issue.

Also for the Historian, Frances McCullough reported and Yvonne mapped the 1872-84 routes of the Barlow and Sanderson Stage through the San Luis Valley, to Summitville, and Lake City, and toward Gunnison. Stage stops, mountain passes, bridges and ferries were among the documented locations.

Currently, Yvonne is mapping for Virginia Simmons’ book about various Ute Indian bands in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and a portion of Wyoming. “Nine maps and four illustrated pages of Ute utility articles” will make up the project, she says. Maps will include agency locations and other information.

Never focusing on a single project, Yvonne’s current sideline is restoration and preservation of old maps rescued from a trash heap in an historic building in Salida. Brittle and delicate, the maps are of undeniable historical value.

Using tissue wrapping paper and her homemade flour paste, Yvonne applies them to map backs employing a method used for archival restorations. Thus, Halburian gingerly strengthens worn and torn portions, increasing the useful life of the maps.

ONE IS A 1906-1909 topographical map of flowing artesian wells in the San Luis Valley (U.S. Geologic Survey mapping by C. E. Siebenthal). Many towns on the map no longer exist on the land: Dune, north of Center; Davenport between Villa Grove and Alder; Los Cerritos and Espinosa, south of Alamosa.

A geological map by T. D. Benjovsky in 1929 locates faults and mine shafts at various depths for numerous platted mines in the Summit-Pitkin-Bonanza vicinity. Another map shows the Bonanza area vein system and faultings at the 400-foot level, and another is a 1927 mapping of the Star and Independent mine locations in the Gunnison locale.

On the reverse side of a Tomichi area mine map are architectural drawings for a building on a Del Norte ranch, and an inventory of materials needed for that building.

“Fascinating,” she says, still amazed at the trashed treasures.

What else does Yvonne do? In acrylic, she’s painted the classics on goose eggs. She’s designed T-shirts, labels for a jelly company, and line drawings for “Handbook for the Official Bum and Hermit.” She’s mastered colcha embroidery and clay sculpture. Currently, she fashions greeting cards using her outdoor photos, makes Christmas ornaments, and is in the midst of a watercolor series on petroglyphs.

Recently, Mel Coleman selected one of Yvonne’s “old” oil paintings titled “Checking Fence,” for the cover of Riding the High Range — the natural beef story by Steve Voynick. Coleman had purchased the painting several years ago.

Yvonne is also president of the Saguache County Chapter of the Old Spanish Trail Association. It meets quarterly with the goal of placing interpretive signs on government lands at specific trail locations. (The Saguache County Road and Bridge department will help set up the signs, she says.) Halburian also designed the interpretive sign appearing on the Old Spanish Trail Monument located in Otto Mears Park in Saguache.

Is there anything this artist can’t do?

“Cook,” she says, “not any more.” Sam says it’s his turn to take care of that task while Yvonne shares her artistic talents.

Who knows what hidden talent she’ll show next?

Yvonne Halburian’s artwork brings joy to many. But her zest for life, helpfulness and friendliness infect everyone she meets.

Nancy Ward lives and writes in Saguache, except when she’s somewhere else.