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Lauren Merrill at Alpine Arts Center in Edwards.

Just as Monet had the gardens of Giverny, and O’Keeffe the arid buttes of Ghost Ranch, the Vail Valley has the Gore Range and Holy Cross and a multitude of peaks and grand landscapes from which an emerging artist might derive a lifetime of inspiration. Studio space where one might render said musings on canvas, however, not so much.

Fourteen years ago, Lauren Merrill came to that exact conclusion. After relocating from the East Coast to teach art at Vail Mountain School, she realized, through both her students’ and her own fruitless attempts to find creative space, that although the valley offered the public a plethora of places where kids and adults might nurture their athletic ambitions, there were few places devoted to exercising the right side of the brain.

“My dad had a business growing up, and I liked the business side of things as well as the art,” says Merrill, a native of Long Island, NY. “I didn’t even have a place to do my own art, and after getting involved in the community and seeing that we didn’t have anything like this up here, I felt like there was a need.”

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The pottery wheel at Alpine Arts Center.

And so Alpine Arts Center was born. The studio, which in March relocated from the hinterlands of  the Edwards Commercial Park to a street-level storefront in the heart of the Riverwalk, invites artists of all ages and abilities to explore and experiment with different media via a variety of classes, camps, and social events in a warm and welcoming environment.

Natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows floods work tables—amply stocked with brushes, paints, and palettes—and passersby can’t help themselves from pressing their noses to the glass to peruse the peripatetic scene, then ducking inside to browse the paintings and photographs and ceramics for sale. A riverside outdoor studio area for plein air painting is just steps away, with an accompanying indoor studio to provide shelter during afternoon thunderstorms. Merrill seems to have achieved her goal of making Alpine Arts a place that’s accessible and fun, and offers something for everyone.

“We have a lot of people who come in and say, ‘I haven’t touched a paintbrush since high school,’ and it’s really fun to see that in one night of a step-by-step class they get back into it, or it’s just exciting to see people get into it for the first time,” she says. “And then we have people who come in with a lot more experience, and it’s great to have all of that in the same room because everyone can encourage each other, and we can individualize the level within the class so someone that’s more advanced gets something different out of it than a beginner.”

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Alpine Art Center's new space in The Riverwalk.

All day long the space hums, with morning kids’ camps and kid-friendly drop-in classes (e.g., “Mommy & Me Get Messy”) yielding to afternoon programs for teens, followed by artistic happy hours for adults in the evenings (yes, there’s even a house bar); a perennial favorite among the over-21 crowd is the Cocktails & Canvas series, which even includes growler painting sessions at local craft breweries.

“We love bringing art into different spaces,” says Merrill. “It can be intimidating for someone who feels like they might not be ready to take an art class, but to go somewhere like Crazy Mountain or Vail Brewing Company, it’s more approachable.”All day long the space hums, with morning kids’ camps and kid-friendly drop-in classes (e.g., “Mommy & Me Get Messy”) yielding to afternoon programs for teens, followed by artistic happy hours for adults in the evenings (yes, there’s even a house bar); a perennial favorite among the over-21 crowd is the Cocktails & Canvas series, which even includes growler painting sessions at local craft breweries.

Cheers to that.

 

Alpine Arts Center

280 Main St, C-101, Edwards

970-926-2732; alpineartscenter.org

Drop-in Hours

Tue–Sat, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.

Sun & Mon, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Open studio for all ages and abilities with painting, pottery, and clay sculpture offered for $12 plus materials.

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