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Historians discover artistic foundation

BRECKENRIDGE – Belle Turnbull just may be the foundation Breckenridge needs upon which to build its artistic community.”I think Breckenridge has the potential to have a real artistic movement, but if you were going to have a real artistic movement begin in Breckenridge, like ones in Santa Fe or Taos or Sedona, it’d be great if it had roots – that it didn’t just come out of the blue or that you’re not just imposing it on people,” said Robert McCracken, who co-edited and published an anthology of Breckenridge resident Belle Turnbull’s poetry. “The reason why Belle – and Helen Rich who wrote novels and Jane Robertson who painted and Arthur Lakes who drew – are important is that they are the foundation for any real artistic movement that will develop,” he said. “They were connected to the mountains emotionally and spiritually, and it really shows in their artwork.”

McCracken discovered Turnbull’s poetry three years ago after Karen Fischer asked him to write a history of Breckenridge. McCracken, whose father mined, lived in Summit County from 1942-50, the same time Turnbull lived here. Though the community mostly ignored Turnbull’s poetry, prominent people like Harriet Monroe – the grande dame of poetry who promoted poets ranging from T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost to William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes – acknowledged Turnbull. In fact, Monroe honored both her and Dylan Thomas with poetry awards in 1938.Born in New York in 1882, Turnbull moved to Colorado Springs with her family when she was 8. After graduating from Vassar and spending her career teaching, Turnbull and her literary friend Rich moved to Frisco in 1938. A couple of years later, they set up permanent residence in Breckenridge. Turnbull died in 1970 and is buried in Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge.Fischer and McCracken read several hundred of her poems, which the Denver Public Library archived, and chose 35 that represented her style in an anthology they published this year titled “Belle Turnbull: Voice of the Mountains.”

“I was astonished when I started going through the archives because here was all this wonderful poetry,” McCracken said. “She had fallen off the radar screen, but I can honestly say I was profoundly touched, and I believe that in some of her works, she was as good as Shakespeare.”Turnbull’s short, rhythmic poems range in topic from “Hardrock Miner” and “Delinquent Tax List of Summit County” to “Old Maid” and “Pasque Flowers.””You don’t have to be someone who knows a lot about poetry to enjoy her poems,” Fischer said. “They’re for all of us who enjoy the Rocky Mountains. If you read them once and read them again and again, you will fall in love with them.”The Summit Historical Society presents a free poetry reading of Turnbull’s work at noon Wednesday at the Edwin Carter Museum. The anthology will be for sale, and profits will benefit the society.



This is the first program the society has hosted focusing on a pioneer in the arts, but Fischer says she hopes to present similar events in the future.”I think it’s perfect timing, especially with Breckenridge’s focus on the arts district,” Fischer said.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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