End of an Era

Big changes are afoot at Foothills Art Center.

This taste for the art of the West is Dickinson's signature, and it's the one she used to sign her farewell note, the 35th Anniversary Exhibition, which is midway through its two-month run. The show is mammoth, with multiple works by nearly thirty artists. "I like to put things together so that shows make sense and tell stories," Dickinson says. "Because of the layout [at Foothills], you can really develop a theme here. I have the hope that I can move people along gradually so that they will look at things they might not look at otherwise. That's why I often start with the realistic pieces and go on to the more avant-garde."

That's exactly what she's done in the 35th Anniversary Show. Dickinson displays works by the realists in the Rondel Gallery, to the right of the entrance, and in the Metsopoulos Gallery, to the left, and in the intimate Kiln Room just beyond. In the Bartunek Gallery, it's impressionism. Finally, in the Waelchli Gallery and the adjacent Quaintance Gallery, Dickinson highlights expressionism and abstraction. Nearly all of the artists in the show have had their work featured previously at Foothills during Dickinson's tenure. "I especially wanted to have artists for this show who had long relationships with Foothills, and with me," she explains.

None of the artists in the show have been connected to Foothills longer than Hal Shelton, whose landscapes are displayed in the Rondel Gallery, at the very start of the show. The cartographer and neo-traditional painter was among the original founders of the institution back in the 1960s.

"Metropolis," by Scott Fraser, painting.
"Metropolis," by Scott Fraser, painting.
"Beast of Burden," by Virginia Folkestad, sculptures.
"Beast of Burden," by Virginia Folkestad, sculptures.

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Through March 16
Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden
303-279-3922

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Across the entryway, in the Metsopoulos Gallery, Dickinson moves from Shelton's neo-traditional into the contemporary realism of Daniel Sprick of Glenwood Springs and Longmont's Scott Fraser, among others. Both are nationally famous, and though both employ realistic painting styles that could have been done centuries ago, they make their paintings look fresh by focusing on contemporary subjects. A good example of this is Fraser's "Metropolis," which depicts, in fanatical detail, a tabletop set with Styrofoam cups and goldfish crackers.

In the Kiln Room are a group of moody, romantic and somewhat abstracted landscapes by Boulder painter William Napier. "Sunset at Grave Lake," in which the dark silhouette of the mountains is set against a pink and orange sunset, is a real standout.

The show continues into the Bartunek Gallery with impressionism. Dickinson has taken an inclusive approach to impressionism; I would have labeled some of her chosen artists differently. For example, I think that Quang Ho is actually more of an expressionist, and Judith Lightfield could more aptly be called a contemporary representational painter. Ho and Lightfield aside, the impressionist part of the show is by far the weakest link in Dickinson's chain of styles.

The strongest are in the free-for-all she's put in the Waelchli and Quaintance galleries, which open to one another. Here Dickinson paired the overlapping stylistic tendencies of expressionism and abstraction. This part of the show is messy, crowded and confusing, but what it misses in cogency, it more than makes up for in visual stimulation. Dickinson lined the walls with paintings and covered the floors with sculptures done by respected artists whose names will be familiar to most. Some of the most famous are three modern Western masters, the late Vance Kirkland from Colorado, New Mexico's Earl Stroh, and Utah's V. Douglas Snow -- all of whom began creating abstractions fifty years ago.

Most of the rest of the artists in the show represent a younger generation, but they are by no means newcomers. Among the painters are David Yust from Fort Collins and Stan Meyer from Indian Hills -- if you can call an artist who weaves tar paper, as Meyer does, a painter (which I think you can).

Among the sculptors is Virginia Folkestad, whose straightforward "Beast of Burden" sculptures suggest an aesthetic and conceptual connection to the even more straightforward "Burdens," an installation by her mentor, Carley Warren. Seeing their work together -- with the related titles and similar materials -- made me think how good they would be paired up in a duo show.

That's not what I'd say about two other sculptors, Peter Durst and Chuck Parson, whose work needs more space than it's got here. As different as their pieces are from each other, they are not unrelated. Both artists work in monumental sizes and employ ordinary materials: Durst uses wood and ceramics to make his funky primitive constructions, while Parson prefers concrete and steel to carry out his stunning constructivist assemblages.

Carol Dickinson just may have bitten off more than she could chew in her everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the 35th Anniversary Show. But who cares? Because with all the riches she's brought together here, there's something for everyone to love -- and, it goes without saying, something for everyone to hate. That's always been Dickinson's genius: her diverse taste and the consequent appeal of her selections to a wide variety of viewers. It's this rare talent that is going to be hard for the Foothills board of directors to find in any potential successor.

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