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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Grand Junction's Uptown Art Colony offers collaborative space for artists

Sep 27, 2021 11:56AM ● By Mike Youngren
A group of 12 Uptown Art Colony ladies pose with their art work.

Uptown Colonists standing from left: Karen Moore, Ruth Leever, Claudia Heckel, Judi Devore, Sharon Weidner, Judy Axthelm. Sitting: Janice Copeland, Penny Youngren, Peg Oswald, Palea Goemmel, Kathy Herzog, Sue Samuelson

They call themselves the Uptown Art Colony, a dozen Grand Valley women who have made a big mark—in pastel, oil and mixed media—on the local art scene. For more than a decade the women have presented their talent and remarkable skills to the awestruck delight of an ever-widening base of art aficionados.

It all started a couple decades ago, when a talented and energetic woman came to western Colorado armed with acrylics, pastels, oils and a can of brushes. Sara Alyn Oakley soon found a cluster of desert flowers, set up her easel and began to paint. It wasn’t long before other artists and consumers recognized her talent, later naming her the Art Center’s Artist in Residence.

Oakley began to teach local women artists, finding space in a warehouse. The artists soon learned that they could achieve more together than separately, and a cooperative formed. 

“There we were in our warehouse, eventually 28 women—spilling paint, cleaning brushes, sharing ideas and learning new techniques,” said Kathy Herzog, a Colony member.

The assembly grew to become a group of (mostly) female artists who embraced the collective energy and welcomed the collaboration. Friends and family members often accompanied artists, helping them choose from hundreds of glorious pastels, or squeeze acrylics from tubes onto paper plate pallets.

“Charlotte, my preschool granddaughter, was helping me manipulate a tube of ultramarine blue acrylic when the container popped open. Suddenly there was the bluest blue you’ve ever seen on everything: the floor, the table, the workspace, us, in our hair,” said Ruth Leever. 

Her husband was happy that she, their granddaughter and her artist pals had a place to make a mess other than in their spare bedroom. Leever has since mastered the application of all the bright, beautiful colors in her magnificent series of collages.

As the women grew more confident in their skills, they set up easels in nearby aspen valleys and red sandstone canyons. They captured on canvas the silent desert in the moonlight and abundant wildlife.

Peg Oswald, now a premier local artist, was one of the women who got her start at The Colony.

“I was just a beginner,” said Oswald. “I knew I could learn something from Sara, so I signed on as one of her students.”

Now, Oswald’s pastels are admired at galleries like The Blue Pig in Palisade.

Moving uptown

When the original Art Colony proved too large to manage, a dozen women artists broke away and moved to a second-floor location near Main Street Bagels. 

“To differentiate from those we left in the basement colony, we began to call ourselves the Uptown Art Colony,” said Herzog.

The Uptown Art Colony has maintained about a dozen artists, with few changes since finding a more permanent studio space near Mesa County Libraries’ Central Branch a few years ago. The cost for space, promotion, internet expenses and the annual art show is shared equally in the group.

“We’re a collaborative group,” said Hughes. “The Colony gives us the opportunity to promote our work in the larger community.”

The Colony founder, Oakley, has since moved to be with family in Georgia, where she duplicated what she started in Grand Junction.

“The art communities in Georgia and western Colorado owe Sara a great deal,” said Oswald.

On October 23, 2021, the Colony returns to the sanctuary of the Grand Valley Unitarian Universalist Church for its annual art show, where artwork is displayed and sold to the community. The pandemic canceled the 2020 event, but that didn’t stop the artists from drawing and painting over the past year.

“We’ve been quite active, trying new things, learning new techniques,” said Herzog

To learn more, call 970-216-3500 or email [email protected].

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