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Museum of Friends’ Courthouse Show: Beth Harper

WALSENBURG- Beth Harper is this week’s featured artist from the ongoing Museum of Friends exhibit at the County Courthouse.

    What brings you to the Huerfano County?

I’ve lived in Huerfano County just about exactly four years. My husband and I desperately wanted to get out of the Southeast after ten miserable years there, and my best friend offered us crash space here while we figured out where along the Front Range we wanted to settle. It took me about five minutes to fall in love with Walsenburg.

    Is your art production enhanced by living here?

Oh, absolutely! I’ve really come into my own as a photographer and poet since I’ve been here; and my textile art work has been greatly enriched as well, both by the landscape itself and by Hispanic and Native American textile and architectural traditions. I’m actually focusing on place-based art and writing in my undergraduate senior thesis, which will be submitted in June.

    How do you see the environment as a benefit to your art production?

One of the things that just hits me over and over about this area is the sky – the moment-to-moment changes, the dramatic forms and colors, not just at sunrise and sunset, but at all times of the day and all seasons. Moving water. Shifting light. The dramatic ways vegetation changes over the seasons. My work is strongly defined by movement and contrast, and there’s never a time when I don’t walk out my front door and see something inspiring.

    Are you associated with other artists in the county?

I’m an academic intern at the Museum of Friends, and a member of the Spanish Peaks Arts Council. I think it’s very important for artists to interact and collaborate – and also to be publicly visible and part of civic dialogue. Art is tremendously important for quality of life in a community, but it’s so easy to de-prioritize it in the face of so many other desperately urgent needs – like social services and jobs. There always needs to be a small core of people making it a priority, or it vanishes altogether. Serendipitously, this interview is being conducted on Arts Advocacy Day, when artists around the country set aside time to write to Congress about the importance of funding for arts education in the public school system and for civic art institutions. I try to do similar advocacy on a local scale, in some way, every single day.

    How would you describe the type of art you create?

I’m primarily a landscape and architectural photographer and textile artist; I’ve been a quilter for many years and in the last few years I’ve started moving into sculptural fiber, felting, wearable art and fashion design, and jewelrymaking. I also do bookbinding and paper arts, and have a big sketchbook of concepts for installation work but haven’t executed any of them yet! You could say I’m really interested in taking things that start out domestic or functional, and pushing their boundaries aesthetically, in whatever medium is at hand.

    Would you encourage other artists to move here?

Definitely! There are very exciting things happening all over Huerfano County. The arts scene in Walsenburg in particular has been very subdued for many years but is starting to grow by leaps and bounds. There’s just a huge amount of undeveloped potential here. This isn’t necessarily the place for someone who wants to just effortlessly step right in to a well-developed network of galleries and performing arts venues (rural areas never are) but it’s a fantastic place to participate in a really growing, dynamic, interesting scene and be involved in creating lasting institutions and relationships. 

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