GLENWOOD SPRINGS — There’s a special sense of community in any town where public art is a part of the urban landscape.
“It reminds people just how wonderful a certain place is,” observes renowned southwestern muralist, sculptor and longtime Glenwood Springs resident Fred “Lightning Heart” Haberlein,
It’s part of what visitors remember about a particular place, and where they want to have their picture taken as a way to hold on to that memory. And it’s where local residents gain a sense of pride about their town, he said.
“Public art shows that positive change is possible, and it doesn’t take that long,” Haberlein said.
As an artist, Haberlein’s favorite canvas is in the public realm, from the sides of buildings in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, to grain silos and post office buildings in his native Conejos County, to some of his first works from the late 1970s that remain in southern Arizona.
Recently, Haberlein completed his 133rd public mural on the west side of the National Transmissions building on 20th Street in Glenwood Springs, at the back entrance into the 19th Street Diner and Turtle’s Liquors.
The scenic landscape painting of Capitol Peak rising above Capitol Lake was commissioned by National Transmissions owner Joel Hendershot.
“I’ve always admired the murals in places like Leadville and Delta and Buena Vista and here in Glenwood, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Hendershot said.
A friend put him in touch with Haberlein, and the two worked together to include the many ideas Hendershot had in mind for his mural, including his father’s airplane flying overhead.
“My dad passed away last spring, and so that was something I wanted to have in there,” Hendershot said of his father, Donald Hendershot, who was a lifelong pilot.
Also included is an image of Hendershot’s dog, his daughter’s dog and several types of wildlife, from a herd of elk, to birds, to fish jumping from the lake, and even a turtle on the shoreline, in honor of his next door business neighbor, David Turtle.
Hendershot has also climbed Capitol Peak five times, so it’s a special place for him.
“This just really captures my love for the mountains, and the outdoors,” he said.
Haberlein points to the many intricate details hidden in his latest work, much as those who stop to admire his works will do.
“It reads as a good landscape for people just passing by in their cars, and as they stand and take a closer look they’ll make all sorts of discoveries,” he said.
Haberlein, who recently turned 69, is well-known for his many works, including outdoor murals, paintings and various sculptures throughout Colorado and the desert Southwest.
He is featured in the book “The Murals of Colorado - Walls that Speak” by Mary Motian-Meadows and Georgia Garnsey. His works are also prominent as part of a self-guided tour of the many murals on public display in Conejos County.
After studying under renowned printmaker Andrew Rush at the University of Arizona in the late 1960s, Haberlein was invited to be among the first artists to live and work at the famed Rancho Linda Vista art colony in Oracle, Ariz.
“As a little kid, I always knew I would be an artist,” Haberlein said of his childhood growing up on a ranch outside Antonito in southern Colorado.
After earning a scholarship to study commercial art at Colorado State University, he progressed into studying sculpture and printmaking.
The name “Lightning Heart” was given to him by the Yaqui Indians during a vision quest in the Arizona desert in 1972. “They felt my heart was like lightning, bright with love, ready to be shared wherever I went,” Haberlein explained in “The Murals of Colorado” book.
The signature line on many of his works include a heart being electrified by a lightning bolt.
Haberlein’s first mural was completed in 1977 on the side of Mother Cody’s Cafe in Oracle, Ariz., depicting a nighttime desert scene on one side of the building and a buffalo stampede on the other. Other Haberlein murals can be found in nearby Tucson.
Some of his paintings can also be classified as the highest-elevation art exhibit in the country, located on the third floor of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville at 10,000 feet.
“You never can tell where art will lead you, and I’ve been to some unexpected places,” he said.
After spending the “year of the great wildfires” in Yellowstone in 1988, Haberlein and his wife Teresa Platt moved to Glenwood Springs, where they bought a place near the No Name trailhead that still serves as their home and Haberlein’s art studio.
Over the years, he has also taught several art classes at Colorado Mountain College.
Murals on the Fork
Locally, Haberlein’s works include a pair of oil paintings at Glenwood Springs City Hall, several paintings and a large indoor mural at the Glenwood Community Center, and a 50-foot painting of the Flat Tops on the side the former CMC building at Ninth and Grand.
Another mural across the street by the U.S. Forest Service headquarters depicts the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers, and the Crystal Valley scenic on the west end of the Dinkel Building in Carbondale was his very first public mural in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Sometimes I see a wall and will go to the owner and say, ‘here’s what I want to do,’” Haberlein said. “Every wall has a main spot where the focus of the eye is drawn, and a secondary spot, so I work with that.”
Sometimes his murals are on the wall itself, and other times, such as his latest work at National Transmissions, are on a panel so that it can moved in the future.
Out of his 133 murals, Haberlein said only 13 no longer exist, either because the building was torn down or it was painted over.
Haberlein said he also admires the works of other artists who do public art, such as Mary Pilon’s mural on the side of the Anderson Building with its intricate detail of just about every building in the downtown area.
“It’s fun to watch people stand in front of that and look for a particular building, or their house,” Haberlein said. “That’s what public art is all about.”
The many works around Glenwood Springs by husband-and-wife team Noemi and Kristof Kosmowski, including their dressing up of the utility boxes, are also a pleasure to see, he said.
The coming year will take Haberlein back to the San Luis Valley to refurbish some of his older works. He will also be painting a new mural in Leadville of Father John Dyer, renowned for his skiing and snowshoeing treks over Mosquito Pass from Fairplay to Leadville in the late 1800s.
Locally, Haberlein is preparing to paint a new mural on the back of the Roaring Fork Anglers building on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs in memory of late outdoorsman Steve de Campo, who was a good friend of his.