Art for Space

If Grant Wood had moved his artist's eye a few acres to the left of the couple he depicted in "American Gothic"--the classic 1930 image of a gaunt bespectacled farmer gripping a pitchfork and standing beside his solemn wife--the painter might have seen rolling acres of earth, broken only by the farmer's plow. Today there's a good chance that the painting's backdrop has been turned into a subdivision of cookie-cutter homes.

That won't happen to 28 acres of farmland in northwest Littleton, if Jan Hormuth has anything to say about it. She and other members of the Chambers Farm Preservation Association are trying to raise $700,000 between now and the group's "drop-dead date" of July 20 to purchase the Chambers Farm as open space. The historic parcel was put up for sale in 1996 and optioned by Gene Meyer of Greentree Homes Incorporated to be developed for housing. But when neighbors wanted to save the land as open space, they sat down with Meyer and the Chambers family heirs to work out a plan.

"We were able to work with the developer in a very positive way. We said, 'Give us a shot,' and we got six months," Hormuth says, to pull together $2.43 million for the land purchase. That was in January. The national Trust for Public Land lent its fundraising expertise, and in March, the Littleton city council kicked in $1.5 million--its entire open-space budget for 1999. Volunteers have raked in another $475,000 in grants and will hear soon whether they've qualified for funds from Great Outdoors Colorado.

Perched on the bluff at the corner of West Bowles Avenue and South Lowell Boulevard, the land was originally purchased by farmer Joseph W. Bowles, namesake of Bowles Avenue and a onetime Colorado state legislator. The land was bought by the Chambers family in 1955 but in recent years has remained unfarmed; native plants and wildflowers now blanket the fields, and ducks, geese and blue herons have settled into the property's wetlands. Neighbors envision Chambers Farm as a quiet "respite park" where people can contemplate nature.

On Friday, even starving artists and Littleton merchants will be trying to save the family farm with their LiDo Art Walk and Chambers Farm Benefit Silent Auction. Two dozen art dealers and shops in Littleton's gallery-packed downtown will sell donated artworks and take bids on everything from concert tickets to free hairstyling sessions. Visitors can also feed on burritos-to-go at Jose's Mexican restaurant or sample Blest BBQ and hear live music in the Reinke Bros. parking lot, and swing dancers can kick up their heels that evening at the S.J. Stewart Building on Main.

Although art-walkers can begin at any of the galleries bearing the event's green, red and yellow sign, a good place to start is the Historic Depot Art Center. In addition to its century-old caboose, the depot houses a month-long show by artists who are donating at least 50 percent of their sales to the preservation efforts. Many of the works were inspired by a "Paint the Farm" day held on the Chambers property in April. "The artists were extremely impressed by the beauty there," says Jane Denison, president of the Littleton Fine Arts Guild. If the community wins its bid for the farm, expect more artists to return with palette and easel. "Artists like a place to paint," says Denison, herself a painter, "and they appreciate a quiet place to think."

--Gayle Worland

The LiDo Art Walk and Chambers Farm Benefit Silent Auction, Friday, June 11, 4-8 p.m. in downtown Littleton near Santa Fe Drive and Littleton Boulevard, 303-797-8808.