by Nancy Christofferson
LA VETA- The annual Fourth of July Arts in the Park is a 36-year old tradition, having first taken place in 1974. About a year later, the Friends of the Arts Guild was organized and thereafter members planned and participated in the show and sale.
The first art fair was July 6 and 7, sponsored by the Fine Arts League of La Junta and the Dave Newsoms, managers of the old La Veta Lodge. It took place in the park as well as on the hotel porch. Coordinators of the fair were Laura “Lolly” Hollar of Rocky Ford; Harold Hendin, La Junta, Donna Pace, Trinidad, Barbara Swanson, then of Walsenburg (and later La Veta), and Alice Newsom of La Veta. Doing most of the actual planning were Margie Bradley and her mother, Mary Hicks, of La Veta.
Margie Bradley moved to town from California in 1972, already an accomplished artist in pastels, oils and pottery. Her parents followed in late 1973. Mary had conquered many media, from watercolors and oils to block printing, and had authored and illustrated several of the Foster series of “how-to” art books. They attracted other artists of the area and encouraged all forms of arts and artistic crafts.
When Jack Hall opened his new Valley Hardware on the corner of Francisco and Main streets in the spring of 1974, he included rental space for other businesses. The next year the southwest two rooms became Valley Art Center, owned and operated by Margie and Mary. One room was for sales of art and supplies, the other was a workshop for classes. Margie taught drawing and pen and ink, and Mary began her popular watercolor classes. Margie was one of her first students.
The first art fair featured the works of Mary and Margie along with nearly 60 other exhibitors and “enormous” crowds (said the newspaper). Soon many Pueblo artists joined in, notably Karl Carlson, watercolorist, Lyle Clift, potter, and their friend Ed Posa. Their presence drew many Pueblo buyers. Some artists came from as far as New Mexico and Kansas. Food concessions were mostly local, churches, school organizations and the like – nothing fancy.
The second art fair was scheduled, and Margie spearheaded it. It, too, was a great success, with all arts and crafts represented, from fine jewelry to handcrafted furniture. Margie’s biggest problem was denying sales space to manufactured crafts. She and her friend Pam Pemberton then decided to form a group to oversee the fair as well as encourage budding artists. Thus, late in July 1975, the group was formed. In September it was named Friends of the Arts Guild. There were about 20 charter members, who initially paid $5 annual dues. In October, the first election of officers resulted in Margie, always the nominal leader anyway, president, Mickey Stauder, vice president and Pam, secretary/ treasurer.
One of the goals of the guild was to share skills, and a feature of its meetings was a member demonstrating his or her craft. These finished works were then raffled off, and the first winner of the first demonstration, a watercolor by Mary Hicks, was won by Nancy Nielsen.
Margie and Mary insisted their students show their works not only in their shop but also in the annual fair. The duo closed Valley Art Center in 1977, and a search began for another venue for showing the art of the guild members. An old frame building on Main Street, owned by Harry Willis, was secured in the spring of 1978 for a gallery. Filthy and drafty, the gallery was only open during the summer months and for special Christmas shows and sales. This old frame building was demolished in the mid 1980s.
Guild members made up an enterprising lot. Bake sales, art sales, silent auctions, Mexican food sales, “thieves markets” and every type of fundraiser was sponsored and the club’s treasury began to build up. While still operating out of the old gallery, plans began in 1981 to build a new and modern gallery. By that time more than $3,500 had been raised, and in October another $1,000 was earned from a fundraiser. Donations came in from area businesses, and land was discovered in Town Park. Previously, the land had been considered railroad property, but it turned out Ryus Avenue had not been opened to its fullest extent and the leftover ground belonged to the Town of La Veta. The town fathers agreed to let the guild build there. Ground was broken the first Saturday in October 1981.
Jack Rickards, an active member and photographer, was builder in charge of the proposed solar building, estimated to cost $20,000 upon completion. Members did as much of the actual construction as possible, and they worked hard. Those who couldn’t physically assist were put to raising more funds. When the gallery opened in the spring of 1982, not one cent of public money had gone into its funding.
Mary and her husband Mil died in the 1990s, and Margie in 2009. Without them, there would be no Art in the Park, no Gallery in the Park, and possibly about 100 fewer artists in the Cuchara Valley. Thank you, Margie and Mary!