In 1987, Craig resident Bernie Rose had an experience at an art show in Denver he said shaped the rest of his life.
At the time, Rose was displaying a metal art piece containing a sculpted buffalo skull and four feathers on a black and red disc, he said.
Rose said he noticed an 80-year-old Native American man, who he later determined was from the Crow tribe, gazing at his work.
“I know one thing about this old man right off the bat — he’s a sun-dancer,” he said. “So I know he can read my symbols and he can read my colors, the placement and he reads the whole presentation.”
After waiting and watching the man admire his work, Rose finally asked the man what he thought of the piece.
“I got the best reward,” Rose said. “You couldn’t give me a million dollars and make me feel better.
“He gave me a smile and a thumbs-up.”
In a gesture some might consider ordinary, Rose said he found a signal that he “did it right.”
“That’s something that not a lot of creative people get,” he said.
And what Rose was doing at the time was creating art he thought might be “stepping on people’s beliefs,” he said.
“I am playing with the most sacred of colors and the sacred of things,” he said. “I’m playing with the spirit of life.”
But, since getting the thumbs up at the art show, Rose has continued to express Native American beliefs, symbolism and heritage through skills he honed during his career as a metal worker in construction.
Rose, who was born in Detroit, first came to Craig in 1972 to work on construction at the Hayden Station power plant.
During the 30 years Rose worked in industrial construction, he helped build about 50 different coal-fired and nuclear power plants, he said.
He said he also worked on construction of Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station for nine years.
But, after 30 years of being on the road, traveling from project to project, Rose said he was ready to settle down and be with his family.
He moved to Craig in 1984.
Rose has two children from a previous marriage, Rebecca, 44, and Jesse, 42, and is currently married to Kathy Shea.
Over the years, Rose has also been involved in the community and served on various boards. He spent nine years on the Moffat County Historical Preservation board and the Northwest Colorado Community Foundation board. Rose also served two years on the Colorado Consortium of Arts council.
He currently lives in east Craig and owns a horse, Roxy, which he keeps on a friend’s ranch north of the city.
Since moving to the area, Rose said he has developed a love for the land, its people and history.
But, Rose said there was another reason he wanted to move to the area — to try to make a living doing something different.
“I decided there were two things I had fairly good comprehension of and that was my tools and Native American spirituality,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could bring the two of them together.”
In the spring of 1986, the product of that relationship created a form of art Rose contends is wholly unique.
“For myself, right at the very beginning, and I didn’t realize it, but I had something that is totally unique to my hand that to date has not been copied,” he said.
Rose’s art ranges from metal pieces welded together of Native American themes to oil paintings of the Yampa Valley and its nature, mines and power plants, among others.
His art has been sold across the nation and even in Europe, Rose said.
Being a successful artist, Rose contends, takes a combination of originality and a bit of luck.
“Artists and creative people, to find something that is unique to them is the whole thing,” he said. “To have something that you do that you don’t have to sign and everybody in the world would recognize it.”
Rose said he chose to explore Native American heritage through art because of a love for the culture that started when he was young.
“Native American people had a way of talking and expressing thoughts and beliefs to one another through symbols and colors,” he said.
Rose said he also uses the traditional symbols and colors of the Native Americans — such as horses, feathers and skulls — to tell a story.
“It’s hard for me to do a painting without telling a story,” he said.
But, Rose contends there is a deeper connection to his passion than simply using the tools and hands he once used for industry to create art and stories.
His process is one of creating something from nothing, he said.
“Being in my craft, one of things that you have to learn to do is imagine something in detail that isn’t there, because you are going to make it go there,” he said.
Rose’s understanding of metals and how they can be worked with to make art came from his days in construction and from “all the mistakes I made,” he said.
The discipline of welding and the construction industry are still in play as Rose continues to create art, he said.
Rose strives to use all his tools with the least amount of “moves” to create maximum expression, he said.
“The economy of moves — that’s what I did all my life,” he said. “That’s what you did at work. You learned how to do it with the least amount of moves and I just wanted that to carry through into my work (as an artist).”
Rose said he plans to keep creating art as long as he can.
“I’m always doing something,” he said. “It’s what I do.”