Museum of Northwest Colorado: Art in a haystack |

Museum of Northwest Colorado: Art in a haystack

Mary Pat Dunn, Museum of Northwest Colorado Registrar
Routt County artist and rancher Curtis Zabel guides his horses back to the pasture after using them to feed the cattle on his ranch, in this 1983 press photograph by Damien Strohmeyer.
Courtesy Photo

Northwest Colorado has been the source of inspiration for artists since the first peoples drifted into the area thousands of years ago. Evidence of early artistic responses to the region’s wildlife and natural beauties can be seen throughout Moffat County in the petroglyphs and pictographs on rock formations from Craig out to the Browns Park and Dinosaur areas.

In more recent times, artists have come to our region specifically to be inspired by what the West has to offer. Frank Tenney Johnson came to Hayden in 1904 to experience life as a working cowboy on the Cary Ranch, while sketching and photographing scenes from his life here.

Johnson went on to become one of the foremost Western artists of his time, following closely on the heels of Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington. The cowboys Johnson painted always portrayed the regional characteristics in dress and attire of the cowboys of our area in the early part of the 20th century.

Gerard Delano was another celebrated artist who came to Colorado and homesteaded along the Blue River where he set up his studio in a log cabin on Cataract Creek. Delano painted western landscapes and historical themes and was later known for his depictions of the Navajo people.

Artist Raphael Lillywhite, who lived for a time in the Walden area, also painted regional scenes of ranch life and the Old West. One dramatic painting, inspired from a real life incident, captures the tension between a game warden and his friend, who had just poached a deer below the Rabbit Ears peaks.

Artists have left a strong record over the last century of their impressions of life in Northwest Colorado. Today there are countless regional artists who are still recording their responses to the incredible stimuli found here.

Nationally recognized sculptor and painter Curtis Zabel lives in Routt County where he has raised cattle while pursuing his art career. His love of the outdoors and his ranch have provided him with an endless source from which to draw subject matter for his works.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado recently had the opportunity to acquire a bronze created by Zabel, which depicts a rancher feeding hay from a horse-drawn wagon. The scene mirrors Zabel’s personal ranching activities, as seen from the photograph accompanying this article. Zabel continues to produce bronzes through which he brings to life scenes and activities that reflect our rich Western heritage.

Take time to drop by the museum this holiday season and take a look at this lovely bronze that commemorates a way of life that has all but vanished from our landscape. The museum is open Monday through Saturday with free admission. For more information, call 824-6360.

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