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Image: Cody Downard

Conjure an image of an artist in the deepest throes with his or her muse, and chances are you’ll picture a paint-stained individual locked away in a cluttered studio, cloistered off from all human contact. With the possible exception of those cartoonists who do lightning-fast caricatures at state fairs, the creative process is an often solitary business, practiced by gifted painters and sculptors toiling intently far from the public eye.

A pleasant exception to this rule has been bringing a more social environment to the creative world right in the midst of Beaver Creek for more than two years. Walt Horton Fine Art offers seasonal opportunities for the public to meet, watch, and interact with some of the West’s finest artists as they create new works in the gallery’s welcoming environs.

Walt Horton Fine Art was launched by the late sculptor best known as the playful genius behind Repentance, arguably Beaver Creek’s best-known piece of public art. (Yes, it’s the rotund, Frontier Airlines–style bear with an arrow stuck in his rear end, confronting a tiny Native American child with his bow.) Horton, a former cartoonist who began a successful sculpting career in his 40s, died in 2010, but his name and his devotion to creativity live on. 

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Image: Ned Radinsky

Horton’s family remains involved with the gallery, particularly his wife, Peggy, and son Jesse, himself an up-and-coming sculptor—the family’s other son, Ben, is a California-based photographer whose work has been showcased in National Geographic. Walt’s partner and fellow gallery owner Michael Paderewski continues to run the show. He says the public venue remains a front-and-center component of the gallery’s operations, which have also included art and sculpting classes for local youngsters.

“Walt approached me one year at the Beaver Creek Arts Festival and talked about the idea of creating a working studio and gallery, a place where he could invite visiting artists to settle in as artists-in-residence for extended stays,” Paderewski says. “It had been his dream to open his own gallery as a place to display his own stuff and work by people he admired.”

The Horton gallery, located next to the ice rink on Beaver Creek Plaza (walthortonfineart.com), remains a dynamic outlet for almost two dozen nature-themed artists, including California painter Ed Kuchera, sculptors Paul Rhymer of Maryland and Vail's Jessica Gilbert, plus Littleton painter Stacy Peterson and New Zealand-born painter Adele Earnshaw. During the summer and again during the resort’s busier times during the winter, a number of those regulars have set up shop in the gallery’s tidy public studio space, lined with hardwood floors and plenty of elbow room. Aagard, known for his realistic landscapes, says he’s particularly enjoyed his recent experiences working in front of fans at the gallery.

“I like the fact that during the course of my stay, people will stop in a half dozen times themselves and get to see the process moving along from almost literally a blank canvas,” Aagard says. “You really don’t have that in your own studio, where you’re largely painting for your own entertainment. I really like to invite the little kids who come by with their families to come up and do just a little brushwork of their own—the parents always love to take a picture of that.”

This coming winter will feature an extended appearance by Florida’s Christina Foard, an art educator whose work ranges from impressionistic landscapes to a series of nontraditional images of women’s dresses.    

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