Public art adds color to Breckenridge’s Walkable Main
BRECKENRIDGE — Breckenridge is noticeably different this season than past summers. People walk downtown wearing required face masks, restaurants extend seating into the roads, and vehicle traffic is barred from Main Street.
If people look closely, they’ll realize regular traffic barriers haven’t set Walkable Main’s blocks apart. Rather, 10 concrete canvasses have been transformed into murals by various members of the community, primarily those with ties to organizer Breckenridge Creative Arts.
The theme was “Love4Breck,” and during the hot weekend of June 12-14, artists had free reign to paint a scene of whatever Breckenridge means to them. Kia Neill showed off Isak Heartstone while Karen Fischer and some of her Summit High School students created duck-themed imagery.
For Caitlin Tongish, that connection means a landscape of mountains and wildflowers with bold lines and robust blues, purples, oranges and yellows across two barriers. She’s been painting with acrylics for about 12 years and also has a background in textiles, yet this nature of public art is new for her.
“I’ve done public galleries but never any street work before on such a large scale,” Tongish said. “It was a learning curve and enjoyablem something I would like to do more of.”
The experience ended up providing people with a few new opportunities, whether it be introducing themselves to the local art scene or expanding their talents in a different medium. Melissa Michel, a ceramics instructor at BreckCreate, usually works with clay but had the time to stretch her fine art skills again after having done murals in California, Texas and Massachusetts.
For her piece, she painted an image of humanoid “monsters” in childlike glee with mountains on the reverse.
“The monsters are connected to their devices,” Michel said. “There’s no separation between the bike and the monster or the monster and the snowboard or skateboard. … I wanted to keep it playful because I think our activities make us childlike again.”
She said the mural gave her fresh inspiration during the mentally taxing shutdown, and she found that she has picked up creative momentum recently.
Erika Donaghy balances her time between ceramics and painting as well, and she made her mark on two barriers. One has poppies and the sun while the other is a road leading to a mountain with the moon.
Her first time creating a piece of public art was when she painted a snowboard live during Silverthorne’s rail jam in March. Painting in the public eye again was a big milestone for her, and the two events had their similarities and contrasts. The largest change was using exterior house paint this June as opposed to acrylics before.
“It behaves a bit differently, so you have to account for the medium being a little different,” said Donaghy, who has been painting seriously only since 2017.
Her journey started with a watercolor class in Denver, and she bought a tin to paint on travels quickly thereafter. When she and her husband came to Summit County last March, she took a ceramics class and fell in love at the prospect of working with her hands. She frequently makes pottery using the sgraffito technique — carving through the glaze to reveal a layer of color underneath. She was pushed to finally finish her home studio when the pandemic hit.
The murals also provided the chance to stay in one’s medium but step outside of their comfort zone. Elisa Gomez, for instance, is known for painting abstract, geometric pieces like a mural she did over the winter at the Old Masonic Hall. Gomez has painted dumpsters in Denver and public art in Texas and Montana, as well.
“Having the opportunity to decide and not have to convince someone why I think it would look good lent itself to the idea of trying something different,” she said.
This time, she tapped into her roots and painted three barriers of Mexican folk flowers.
“I feel nostalgic when I see them,” Gomez said. “It’s very uplifting and culturally representative of a part of our population here. I just thought it was important.”
Gomez, Michel and the others received positive feedback during the process and are glad the town is supporting public art. They hope it becomes more common to inspire people and liven up the area.
“We should encourage more public art and murals in these little mountain towns because it makes us look more real or down to earth, more vibrant and present,” Michel said.
The murals are scheduled to remain in the street for as long as it’s closed, which is currently through Sept. 28.
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