Spirit in Hand
Holiday boutique exhibit returns to Durango Arts Center

One of artist Debra Gorton's "Funny Bone Tribe" dolls./Photo courtesy Durango Arts Center

Plagued by funding cuts, expensive materials and changing tastes, it’s a wonder any artists make enough money to support themselves, let alone continue their work.

So when opportunities like the Durango Arts Center’s “Spirit in Hand” holiday boutique come along, many take advantage of it.

“This is part of our mission, to support the local community,” said Jules Masterjohn, the center’s exhibits and program director, and an artist herself.

Many shoppers also appreciate the boutique as an opportunity to buy handcrafted holiday gifts.

The juried exhibit, which starts Dec. 16, showcases a variety of work from 21 regional artists that includes original jewelry, painted silk and ceramic tiles. This year, all who submitted applications for the exhibit were accepted. However, not everything everyone submitted was selected, so no artists are duplicating each other’s media.

The Durango Arts Center has held an annual holiday art sale for about a decade, but three years ago, Master-john took over the production of it, calling it “Spirit in Hand” and turning it into a juried display. The first year, Spirit in Hand was held for five weeks during the holiday season following the Sept. 11 attacks. It was a huge success, bringing in $14,000.

Last year, the sale brought in about $7,500.

“When we looked at that, we went ‘Whoa!’ The economy’s different for us to have a five-week commitment,” Masterjohn said. ”We thought we’d try it differently and see how it works out.”

This year, the show will only be eight days long. Already, some would-be customers have come in asking when the sale is going to start.

“It’s a good confirmation that the community looks forward to this,” Masterjohn said.

The holiday sale is the one time a year that the center turns into an out-and-out retail venue, Masterjohn said. The rest of the year, the center focuses on displays of artwork with the aim of educating visitors, she said.

A handmade ceramic tile titled
“Warm Hands” by artist Steve
Baranowski./Photo courtesy
Durango Arts Center

For Spirit in Hand, artists were asked to submit only original pieces in a price range of $15 to $350. Deborah Gorton’s “Funny Bone Tribe” dolls will be on hand, including one grinning doll with wild, orange curls. Steve Baranowski will display his ceramic tiles decorated with scenes, often from nature.

Others will be selling ceramics, woodwork, solar etchings, music, paintings and photography.

Peggy Maloney, an art teacher at Fort Lewis College who has exhibited in Spirit in Hand before, has submitted jewelry for the show. Her pieces are done in various metals and other materials including ceramic.

“I’m interested in the idea of beauty and of creating arrangements in an improvisational way,” she said.

A submission also came from Debbie Wyckoff, a weaver who makes hand-woven scarves of various materials, such as chenille, silk and cotton.

Wyckoff, who has been weaving for 25 years 4 and also teaches the craft, makes colorful, large scarves. She also has exhibited at the boutique in the past and said she likes the variety and caliber of the holiday show.

“It’s a really nice quality show because it’s a juried show,” she said. “It’s quality artists that have to be accepted.”

But not all the artists are experienced in the Spirit in Hand show. This year, a group of young artists will be selling their wares at the boutique as well. The group of four, ranging in age from 17 to 19 and known as the Hawk Hill Artisans, will display their blown glass.

A necklace by artist Peggy Maloney. /Photo courtesy Durango Arts Center

“I’m really excited. This is our first exhibit,” said Grace Kruse, a member of the group along with her brother Cuatro and friends Nik Holley and Andy Glover. “It means a lot. It’s cool that we’re so young, and we’ll have the only glass in there.”

The group, which just built its Durango studio last summer, will be selling blown-glass ornaments, animals, paperweights and vases.

“It’s our passion,” Grace Kruse said. “We just hope people will see and respect our work.”

Getting the Durango public to support local artists might not be so hard, but getting governmental support for art is difficult, especially in Colorado, Masterjohn said.

Durango, however, is a little bit different from Colorado or the country at large.

“There’s a really strong community of artists and craftspeople here in Durango,” she said. “I think it attracts people because there is an interest in the arts. More and more people from the East Coast and the West Coast are moving here – people from larger cities with a level of experience and expectation for the arts, and they’re bringing that here.

“If you look at our community, there’s strong support,” she continued.

An arts-advocacy group, Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania, ranked Colorado 46th in the nation in per-capita spending by government art agencies on art in fiscal year 2002. The group used 2000 census data.

According to the group, Colorado, with more than 4.3 million people, spent just 44 cents per capita, the same amount Arkansas spent on its 2.6 million people. The group ranked Hawaii number one, with its population of 1.2 million people and its spending of $5.26 per person. Last on the group’s list was Texas, which spent just 28 cents on art per capita with 20.8 million residents.

“All the states are having a really hard time, and something’s got to go. I understand there’s a dilemma,” Masterjohn said. “The problem is the arts are part of the spirit of our culture. If you continue to devalue that, it affects what people value. Art opens our minds.”

Still, the stereotype of the struggling artist persists, largely because many artists are struggling. People can’t support themselves through art and often have to take on another full-time career to make ends meet.

“For many of these people, this is something they do because they have to make things. They’re moved to; they must,” Masterjohn said.

And the Spirit in Hand holiday boutique is a way to support artists doing new and interesting things.

“To me, as an artist, I really like the way the community is supporting the arts,” said Gorton, maker of the “Funny Bone Tribe” dolls who will also have mixed-media collages on display. “It’s nice to have a venue where local artists can show their work. And when I do venues where I get feedback from the community, they say they want to support local artists.”







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