On the second Friday of every month between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., the Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss, Colo., comes alive with music, refreshments, conversation, wine, micro-brewed beer and some of the most astonishing artwork available on the Western Slope of Colorado.
Although the gallery is open every day from 11:00 to 5:00, Monday through Saturday, “Once a month we sponsor a special evening to showcase the works of different people,” says Pennie Alexander, the Creamery’s manager and co-director. (She also happens to be a skilled weaver, working with all natural fibers, as well as being a stone and bronze sculptor.) “It’s a great way to meet them. Every Tuesday before each show, starting at 7:30 a.m., we completely change out the interior — not only to set up the featured artwork but to make both levels look new.” For the February 8th event, as an example, they decorated one room with box-like shelving and Navajo blankets as a backdrop for the woodwork made by Cedaredge residents Clarence Fivecoate and Ron MacKendrick. Upstairs, mounted on two muted purple dividers, they displayed the oil and watercolor-crayon paintings of Tina Rupp, who is also from Cedaredge. “I just love how they put things together,” Tina told me on the side. “The people who run this place are really dedicated and I think they do a terrific job.”
There’s plenty to admire inside the three-story building (the basement is a classroom), considering that over 60 artists have their work on display, representing an endless variety of media including watercolor and oil paintings; pencil drawings; sculptures; wood work; ornamental glass; fiber creations; pottery; and a wide assortment of other crafts. Built in 1939 by the Dairyman’s Association, the historic building — originally a single level — was home to the Challenge Butter Creamery through the late 1960s. “After that, the Hari Krishnas bought it as a place to make chocolate,” Pennie continued, but that venture didn’t last long. Afterwards, the building sat abandoned for nearly 30 years and along the way, “it fell completely into disrepair. There was a fire, then the roof fell in ... it was a mess.” In 2006, however, two sisters named Linda and Joann Tullis fell in love with the place during a visit to Hotchkiss and instead of just passing on through, “they put up the money needed to have the whole thing restored.” It took about a year, but the results are truly spectacular. Not only was a second story added, along with an extra-wide staircase and an elevator, but some highly unusual arches were installed to support that floor. (You’ll have to see them in person for full effect). Even the restrooms are unique. Carefully crafted by artists Pete Halladay and Judy Barratt-Gross, they are delightfully whimsical mixes of everything from copper to marble to old tractor parts.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the Creamery offers a two-hour, after school art program for ages five on up. “We have an award-winning teacher, Suki Strong, who is in charge of one classroom,” Pennie explains. “She’s always encouraging the students to do new things, and we now have a children’s gallery for displaying their creations.” In the basement, there is a fully-functioning pottery room (Suki’s husband, David, who is “an amazing potter,” teaches there) and “the kids can choose each day where they want to work — upstairs or down.” There’s a summer art camp offered here, too, as well as a number of adult classes and workshops.
Gini McNair, who is herself an accomplished potter with over 40 years of experience, took over as Marketing Director this past January 15th, starting her training under past Director Cyndi Boerner. (“I’m just getting my feet wet.”) As the person in charge of marketing the Creamery and scheduling classes, “the real challenge about running it,” she says, “is its small advertising budget. Our mission statement is Building Community through Art, Education and Agricultural Outreach” and with much of the profits coming solely through tax-deductible donations, “that’s a lofty goal, one that I strive for.” Gini concludes, “The Creamery Arts Center is an amazing resource and we should all be proud that it is located here. One of the reasons that my husband and I were drawn to this area over 30 years ago was the amazing blend of artists, ranchers, fruit growers, miners, teachers, farmers, etc., who choose to live in our beautiful area.” And, judging by what they have created on the side in their studios, those talents make our homes a bit more beautiful, too.
The Creamery is located at 165 West Bridge Street, which is the road that goes right through the center of town. For more information call (970) 872-4848. ❖