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Samuel Prudden Teaches History Through His Art

You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we look at local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Samuel Prudden wrapped up his debut Denver exhibition at La Cour Art Bar on March 3; by then he and his wife, Maria Barrera, had sold out every piece they’d hung. Now Prudden’s paintings are available at the Cha Cha Gallery in Aspen — and he’s pretty psyched about that, since he never actually intended to become an artist.

Prudden, who grew up outside of Aspen, graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Spanish. He wasn’t sure what to do next, and after a few years of trying to figure it out, Prudden joined the Peace Corps — mostly to buy a little extra time. “You sign up, and they basically tell you where you’re going,” he says. He was stationed in El Salvador in 2010, doing “education stuff,” he explains. “I was working in the schools; I taught a bunch of English classes and also did adult literacy work.”

Prudden assisted with a massive sexual education campaign, too. “They had lots of problems with young girls getting pregnant,” he says. “Since I was a foreigner, I could go in and talk about taboo things, and nobody in community would get in trouble.”

In the midst of all of this, Prudden met his wife, artist and educator Barrera. The duo married in Aspen, then returned to El Salvador so that Prudden could finish out his stint with the Peace Corps.
Prudden and Barrera came back to Colorado in 2013 but didn’t stay long; ten months later Prudden was accepted into a master’s program at Columbia University. From New York they relocated to Honduras, because Prudden “wanted to get into international teaching,” he says. Both he and Barrera found jobs at a Honduran school. But it wasn’t exactly what they’d been expecting.

“It’s such a dangerous town; there aren’t parks, you don’t take walks,” explains Prudden. “There’s not a whole lot to do." 

The teacher had never painted before — in fact, he hardly knew anything about art. His wife was already an accomplished artist, though, and a couple of months into their time in Honduras, she came home with some art supplies and got Prudden to try his hand at painting. “I did, and got super into it right away,” he recalls.

Prudden started out with acrylics, but has since moved to oils. “Maria gave me the basics, and I took it on from there," he explains. "I probably did five, six – maybe seven – paintings, and they weren’t very good. But I was having fun.”

From the beginning, Prudden liked working on large-scale canvases. “All of the stuff I do is pretty big; even if they were bad paintings, I spent a long time working on it,” he says.  “I learned a lot from my mistakes — about what worked and what didn’t. Every day I gained confidence and learned more about what I could attempt to do.”

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Late last year the couple moved to Denver, where both continue to pursue their art. “My paintings take a real long time; depending on the size – and because I’m also working full time [as a teacher] – I probably paint for two to three hours every day, longer on weekends," Prudden says. "Most of my pieces take three weeks." 
 His paintings tackle a variety of topics. “I try to find a subject that’s interesting, one that I think would look cool. It varies,” Prudden says. “I definitely have a handful of agricultural worker pieces that tie into my experience living in Latin America. I have some pieces of the Mexican Revolution, because I’m a history and Latin American studies guy.”

A history guy with “nostalgia for a time in history you would have liked to live in but didn’t," he continues. A lot of my pieces have started from that premise and have been built from there.”

Although he'd like to tackle landscapes, right now people populate every piece he creates. “I like people in my paintings,” Prudden says. “I haven’t made a single painting without people, and I don’t know why. I love the natural world, but for some reason it’s not as exciting to paint."

Prudden doesn’t have a website yet; if you’re interested in learning more about his work, you can e-mail him directly at samuelprudden@gmail.com.  

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