Visual Arts

Insurance investigator Mickey La Fave finds solace and success in watercolors

You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Mickey La Fave is an arson and fraud investigator who's been in the business for 28 years; by day, she works for an insurance company. But her passion has always been art. "I don't know what it was about me in school, but the only teachers who ever liked me were my art teachers -- and they loved me," says La Fave. After decades, La Fave recently decided to give painting a go, and the results are bright, colorful and spectacular.

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"I don't want to die without having been an artist," says La Fave. In her younger years, though, she wasn't inclined to do things for herself; she was comfortable, if not content, following the men in her life. And right after she'd graduated from art school and hoped to start a creative career, she followed a boyfriend to Houston.

"I got off the plane from a little dinky town and didn't know anything about marketing my art," says La Fave. She didn't own a car at the time, and "there was a job within walking distance, and that's how I got into insurance," she explains, laughing. "I barely knew what the word 'insurance' meant."

A few years later La Fave transferred to Denver and, when an investigator position became available, she jumped at the opportunity. She spent the next few decades investigating insurance claims -- and never once picking up a paintbrush. "It was eating at me my entire life," La Fave says. "It wasn't until I went through a divorce that I started painting again." In 2012, shortly after the break-up, La Fave was having wine with a friend at Mead Street Station when she noticed somebody rotating the restaurant's artwork. "So I asked them about it," she recalls. La Fave was offered an opportunity to hang her work there -- problem was, she only had four paintings. During the next six months, La Fave created 56 watercolors that were displayed in her first show. "They said it was the most profitable show they ever had," she notes. The investigator-turned-artist has enjoyed her first career, but is hoping to retire from that business soon. "I'm never, never, never retiring from art, though," she says, describing the various arts organizations she's become involved with over the past two years. "I'm too old not to move fast." Keep reading for more from Mikey La Fave. Right now, La Fave works primarily with watercolors. "I dabble in oil and other things, but with the shows you can usually only enter one category of art unless you want to pay," she explains. "A lot of people say watercolors are hard to work with, but I don't think they are," says La Fave. At first, the artist would get frustrated and throw things away. "But then I decided I was going to make sure every painting was finished and a success," she says, and she used white-out and other techniques to complete paintings to her liking. "I think that's made me a better artist." Her work is colorful and deeply rooted in place, often depicting western landscapes and nature. La Fave is also passionate about animals, and those pieces have been popular. "I make things up in my dreams, and then I get up and do a sketch," she explains. "I'm crazy, crazy, crazy about birds!" The artist's next piece, currently in progress, will be anchored around a raven wearing "one of those helmets they used in the WWII fighter planes," La Fave says.

La Fave belongs to several area art leagues and is a boardmember of the Arvada Fine Arts Guild. Her work is currently on display at La Belle Rosette and the Eggshell. But you'll soon be able to see it in other spots.

"Come summertime," La Fave says, "I usually do tent art and music fairs." So La Fave will appear at the Art Students League of Denver's Summer Art Market, which runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 7, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at 200 Grant St. "I have a lot scheduled through the summer," she says. For more information, visit La Fave's website.

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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase

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