Summit County painter Sheila Trowbridge brings low-key art to the High Country
Romp to Stomp ‘Pink’ painting party
What: A canvas painting seminar with local artist Sheila Trowbridge before the Tubbs Romp to Stomp weekend, an annual snowshoe race and fundraiser for breast cancer research
When: Thursday, March 5 from 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: Frisco Adventure Park Day Lodge, 621 Recreation Way in Frisco
Cost: $45 pre-registration, $50 at the door
All painting materials are provided, including brushes, paints and canvas. Also included in the class fee is one beer, wine or soda, with additional drinks and snacks available for purchase. For more info or to pre-register, see www.friscorecreation.com.
Chances are even casual Summit County visitors have come across the artwork of Sheila Trowbridge.
After all, more than a dozen paintings by the longtime local hang on the walls at Dillon Dam Brewery, a wildly popular watering hole for locals, out-of-towners, random travelers and just about anyone who wants a taste of Summit culture with a pint of Summit beer.
Then again, only about half of the brewpub’s clientele will ever see Trowbridge’s artwork: The walls they grace are in the men’s restroom.
But the artist in her hardly minds. She’s proud of the big, bright, bombastic ceramic tiles she crafted in the mid-2000s for George Blincoe, her former boss and current Dam Brewery owner. There are renderings of skiers, snowboarders and all manner of wildlife — the usual mountain-town trappings — along with a few oddball additions, like a tongue-in-cheek version of Mona Lisa with the words “wipe that Dam smile off your face” scrawled beneath.
Then there’s a caricature of founding brewmaster Matt Luhr, who died in 2008 after earning dozens of accolades at the Great American Beer Festival. That piece of Trowbridge’s work has been used on past labels of the brewmaster’s signature pour, Sweet George’s Brown Ale, giving a whole new meaning to the art-world term “mixed media.”
Beer bottles and a men’s restroom aren’t the only unorthodox galleries to put Trowbridge’s work on permanent display. Around the same time as the tile project, she created a much different, much more impressionistic mural for another local hotspot, Food Hedz in Frisco.
The three-piece mural brings to life a peaceful slice of the Italian countryside, complete with vineyards and rolling hills. It’s a near-perfect complement to the restaurant’s unpretentious yet enticing menu — in many ways, the foodie equivalent of Trowbridge’s artwork.
“I’ve always been very self-taught and it works well for me,” says Trowbridge, a 55-year-old mother of two who holds a junior college degree in the generally art-free realm of retail merchandising. “I can do and work with so many different things — I never considered going to school for art. It just didn’t seem like the sort of thing I wanted to study.”
But Trowbridge is more than willing to pass on her self-earned knowledge to like-minded art lovers. On March 5, she’ll guide a three-hour canvas painting class at the Frisco Adventure Park, just as she does once or twice a month throughout the year. It’s become part of Trowbridge’s art career, what she terms “freelancing,” with a mix of art shows and farmers markets and one-off commission pieces like the bathroom tiles.
The upcoming painting event fits comfortably into Trowbridge’s off-kilter resume. It’s the kick-off for the Tubbs Romp to Stomp fundraiser on March 7, an annual snowshoe race to raise funds for breast cancer research. The artist created a sample piece — a bicycle on a pink background with a basket, flowers and signature breast cancer ribbons — to display at the front of an intimate, makeshift studio while she guides attendees through the ins and outs of canvas painting.
“This isn’t paint by numbers,” Trowbridge says of the painting classes. “I like to give people examples and then let them change it how they like. It’s very low key — there’s no pressure, people are just doing their own thing.”
POTTERY TO PAINTING
Much like the art world itself, Trowbridge almost accidentally fell in love with Summit County. Shortly after graduating from junior college in her home state of Iowa, she was traveling through Europe with her sister when the two randomly met a woman from Keystone. The three started talking, and when Trowbridge returned stateside, she decided to give Colorado a try on little more than a whim.
“Honestly, I think it was just something to do, coming to Colorado,” says Trowbridge, who was an avid runner through high school but had only touched skis once or twice before coming to the Rockies. “I don’t think I had any long-term goals, like I was going to move to Colorado and never come back. It was just a great group of people I ran into and eventually became a great place to raise kids.”
After making the move to Summit County in 1982 at 22 years old, Trowbridge fell into the routine of most new locals, working odd jobs here and there to make ends meet. She started as a Keystone lift operator and then moved to Navigator, a now-defunct restaurant managed by Blincoe in the nearby River Run village.
Then chance stepped in. While browsing an art show in Dillon, Trowbridge met Merry Cox, a local potter based in Summit at the time. Somehow, at some point — Trowbridge admits the details are a bit hazy — she became Cox’s assistant.
“I was probably waiting tables and just looking for something else, so it was perfect for me,” Trowbridge says. “I always did art in high school and this was very flexible, with hours that fit with what I wanted.”
Trowbridge spent the next eight years in Cox’s studio, glazing ceramic pieces and learning the ins and outs of being a professional artist. She didn’t quite find a passion for pottery, but after nearly a decade with Cox, she found a growing interest for teaching in many different mediums.
For years, Trowbridge fell into the art-show routine, traveling from show to show with paintings. It was a demanding lifestyle, and when her first child was born she let it taper off and instead focused on local events. Her marketing background came in handy: Today, she crafts marketing pitches for events like the Frisco painting seminars and six-week preschool courses, long before she even begins crafting a lesson plan.
“You have to be after this all the time,” Trowbridge says of the freestyle artist life. “When you’re doing art shows, that’s always your goal — the show. It’s not that I’m unfocused now, but I love to do so many different things. You have so much more freedom with (farmers) markets and classes.”
When not in the studio, Trowbridge remains an avid runner. She lives on Peak 7 in Breckenridge and, come summertime, is regularly found on the nearby Peaks Trail. It’s a trait she’s passed along to her two sons, along with Nordic skiing: 17-year-old Henry recently won the individual skate division of the CHSAA State Skiing Championships, while 14-year-old Oliver is an up-and-coming Nordic skier in his own right.
Like many artists, Trowbridge finds inspiration all around her, from Nordic to running to her children. The concept for her two children’s books, titled “My Red Hat” and “Two Boys and A Dog” (both available through her Etsy page), came while she was cruising the trails, alone.
“I’m pretty boring, I guess,” Trowbridge says. “Running is just very meditative and inspirational, a nice way to get out of the daily grind. I don’t really think about it much — I just like to get out and run.”
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