Anasazi Heritage Center and Stanton Englehart Exhibit
Before leaving Colorado I visited the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores. The small museum there is excellent, not just displaying artifacts but containing multiple interactive exhibits for both children and adults that really dig into the archaeology process (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). They also have a lot of multimedia. Just outside the museum are ruins of a small pueblo on the hill overlooking the Dolores River.
What captured my attention here however was the temporary exhibition in the gallery featuring the monumental works of Colorado artist Stanton Englehart. His paintings perfectly captured my impressions of the landscape here, very much portraying the “feeling of the area” as his wife described his works in an interview on the DVD A Life on Canvas.
This trip has been my first experience of the West. After crossing the Mississippi I was instantly spellbound. I have become intoxicated by space: the 360 degrees of sky, the ability to see the weather as it drifts over the land, the shadows dotting the open plains where the clouds block the sun from hitting the earth…. I am fascinated by the sun, how it doesn’t just shine from a fixed point in the sky but seems to fill the whole atmosphere, bursting from every inch of empty air, and reflecting off every surface it touches. Having lived my whole life in the Northeast where sun, sky, and even air are always bracketed – by buildings in the towns in cities and by dense forest and mountains in the wilderness – this vast, open country is a marvelous novelty. Being in this open country I cannot help but to be aware of the rhythms of nature as seen in the sunrises and sunsets and felt in the rains and the heat. To me, this constant awareness has produced a powerful recognition of connection – of integration – between landscape and individual, a connection that seems irrefutable. It was Stanton Englehart’s representation of this connection that immediately struck me in his paintings.
His paintings reflect not just his personal interpretation of the landscape but the universality and the essence of it. In many of these monumental works the viewer is elevated slightly above ground level yet because of their size their placement in the gallery necessitates that viewpoint be above the observer so that you have the impression that you are not only above and able to see the entirety of the landscape but that you are in it. This is reinforced by the strong horizon lines at eye level and the large, open forms below, which provide a comfortable space for the viewer to inhabit. Yet, Englehart does not just place his viewer within the landscapes of the West, he enfolds them in the subtle layers and textures within his defined edges. While these edges and textures undoubtedly reflect the seemingly infinite space of the landscape, I also interpreted the layers as a representation of the passage of time. Just as you can stand below a cliff face in the Four Corners area and see tens of millions of years in the sedimentary layers of rock, I feel these layers of paint in Englehart’s works represent the “timeless nature” of the landscape, as one reviewer of his works put it. And this – at least to me – represented the connection of all beings throughout time to the land and the universality of that connection between all things living and not.
The works on exhibition here were all privately owned and thus photography was not permitted. However, his paintings spoke such universal truths and had such a powerful impact on me that I took photographs anyway. And, ultimately, I decided to publish some of them below. Yes, I could have asked permission from his estate, but honestly I was afraid that I would be denied. I will remove these images if asked but I hope that you all will at least get to see them and, maybe, get a taste of the feeling of integration and connection in the universe.
Coming from Christchurch and seeing open sky where ever I travelled in the South Island (similar to Iceland) it felt the same way as it does for you in Colorado. Then coming to live in the northeast, it felt like I couldn’t see! I wanted to constantly know what was over the next hill or move hills and trees for a possible large open sky view. It took a couple of years to appreciate the immediate view, instead of a distant open sky view. It’s neat to have someone write this feeling down into words. Thank you!
Hey Lavinia! I’m so glad you cognize the same feelings about open space and sky. It’s still a novelty to me since I grew up in the Northeast. I can imagine that going from wide open space to New York must have been a strange adjustment! P.S. Lets go back to Iceland!
As a former Midwesterner turned Coloradan, I can relate to your take on the sky. As my daughter would often say after returning from a trip, “Ah….I missed my beautiful Colorado sky”. Glad you’re enjoying the area.
It was beautiful, thank you Ingrid! I don’t think I could ever not be amazed by the sky out there!