Out of the Blue

Old homestead on the Arsenal

I remember back in the day when the phone was black, had a dial, and sat on Mom’s desk. When the phone rang, you hesitated to see if it was going to be one long ring or two short rings before you answered. Funny, I don’t remember now which ring pattern we were.

Awhile back I was working in the studio on a 20 x 20 inch piece for the 2016 calendar when the phone rang. I picked up the handset and hesitated to see what came up on caller ID. It said Rocky Mtn Arsen. I stared at that trying to place in my brain what I was seeing and searching for any memory that would link to the Arsenal. Nothing.

I answered, curious why in the world I would be getting a call from what I had to assume was the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. For those of you not from around the Denver area, a little background is in order.

During World War II an area north of Denver was operated by the U.S. Army to produce chemical weapons for the war. After the war ended, a portion was leased for production of agricultural chemicals. Rocky Mountain Arsenal produced weapons during the Cold War and finally was used for demilitarization of weapons.

Mule deer and magpie friend.

Environmental cleanup began in the 1980s, during which it was discovered that bald eagles had set up housekeeping on the grounds. That discovery is what prompted the creation of the wildlife refuge after cleanup was completed. We now have 15,000 acres of urban refuge just north of the city that is home to herds of bison and deer. The Arsenal is also a popular place for birds.

Back to the ringing phone. It turns out that my Animals with Attitude 2015 calendar had made its way into the hands of Cindy Souders, who works at the Refuge. She was calling to ask if I could hang a show in their visitor’s center beginning the first of April.

I was thrilled she had searched me out and thrilled that she recognized Oliver as a burrowing owl! But I was disappointed because most of my inventory would be hanging in Fort Collins until the end of April. The pieces not already in a show were mostly African animals that wouldn’t be appropriate to the Refuge. We ended the conversation with the promise of an email and to keep in touch.

In an ensuing email Cindy mentioned that the July through September slot was open. My mind immediately began calculating how many pieces I could reasonably expect to complete and at what size before July. I called Cindy back and proposed that I make four new pieces of art, each 20 x 30 inches, from photos taken at the Refuge. She was thrilled, and so was I.

Bison along the driving loop of the Arsenal.

The next morning I made my first trip to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, which is not easy to find if you ask Siri for help. Siri and her friends Google and MapQuest will take you on a wild goose chase and ask that you park in a residential area, scale a tall fence topped by barbed wire, and hoof it across a good portion of the 15,000 acres. Instead, you should head to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park off of Quebec and then follow the signs to the visitor’s center just north of the park.

Of the more than 500 photos I took that day, I was confident that I had at least two I would work from for the exhibit. One was of a bison drinking melted snow along the road, and the other was a magpie perched on the back of a mule deer.

In the next post, you will see how critique groups influenced and improved my pieces.