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A glimpse into a Lightning Heart

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

By Stina Sieg

Post Independent Staff

Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” When artist Fred Haberlein said this, he laughed: He usually tries to be more careful around reporters.

But on Tuesday afternoon, he was understandably preoccupied, and talked freely as he hung his paintings around the gallery space. Haberlein, 63, was calm, but time was of the essence. His show, “Lightning Heart,” featuring landscapes and natural subjects in oil and watercolor, was opening in a few days.

Tonight, the painter, muralist and professor may be met at his show’s reception, held from 5:30-8:30 at Colorado Mountain College. For most in the community, it will be the first they’ve seen of these new works. In essence, Haberlein explained, they chronicle his artistic, spiritual journey in Glenwood.

“A lot of people debate about spiritual truth,” he said. “If you just go out into nature and look ” it’s right there in front of you.”

Right there behind him was his massive, blue-tinted version of Mount Sopris. Filled with fat, loose brush strokes and bright, white cloud puffs, it seemed to capture his work’s intentions so well.

“All of my art is about celebrating the power of nature,” he said.

He talked about that energy, “the spirit manifest,” as he called it. He described its power to heal and his desire to fill people with it. His eyes were intense then, shining blue in the light. His fingers were heavy with turquoise rings, and on his head was a baseball cap, decorated with a beaded rainbow. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and sometimes waved his hands in the air for emphasis. Somehow, never did he sound corny or whimsical or inauthentic. He was just there ” completely.

“If whatever is out there created all that’s in nature, too, then we must be doing pretty good,” he said, shrugging and smiling.

He mentioned his past with ample appreciation, and not too much sequence. He’s a shaman, he said. For more than a decade, he was a printmaker at an artists’ community in Arizona. He grew up on a desolate ranch outside Antonito. Starting in 1978, he began a series of murals in towns across the country. Now, they’ve reached 125, more than any other U.S. artist has created single-handedly. Oh, he’s also been a teacher at CMC for 18 years.

“So, you can’t ever tell,” he said. “Art will just lead you wherever it will lead you.”

He told more stories, so many more stories, about befriending different Native American tribes, about the appreciation he feels from a town when he completes a mural. And in all of the little tales, the message seemed the same. We’re all connected, he was saying, and everything matters. That might be why, after thousands of paintings, more than a hundred murals, nearly 20 years of teaching, he’s still fresh. He senses what he does makes a difference.

“I just want to remind everybody of the miracle of life,” he said. “How lucky we are, boy!”

In today’s culture, he sees this feeling of reverence as more important than ever. Knowing he was going off topic, he spoke of war, genetic engineering and other such scary things. These days, he said, the world can be a frightening place.

“But we do have choice,” he went on, becoming increasingly involved in his words. “We have a total choice.”

And then a few tears ran down his face.

“If there are nuclear clouds going up, I want to be there, painting them, doing good for some town.”

The moment was powerful and real, and over in a flash. One of the best things about art, he had said earlier, is that you can live in the possibility of the future. Right then, as he wiped off the tears, he looked absolutely committed. He has so much more work to do.

He told more stories, so many more stories, about befriending different Native American tribes, about the appreciation he feels from a town when he completes a mural. And in all of the little tales, the message seemed the same. We’re all connected, he was saying, and everything matters. That might be why, after thousands of paintings, more than a hundred murals, nearly 20 years of teaching, he’s still fresh. He senses what he does makes a difference.

“I just want to remind everybody of the miracle of life,” he said. “How lucky we are, boy!”

In today’s culture, he sees this feeling of reverence as more important than ever. Knowing he was going off topic, he spoke of war, genetic engineering and other such scary things. These days, he said, the world can be a frightening place.

“But we do have choice,” he went on, becoming increasingly involved in his words. “We have a total choice.”

And then a few tears ran down his face.

“If there are nuclear clouds going up, I want to be there, painting them, doing good for some town.”

The moment was powerful and real, and over in a flash. One of the best things about art, he had said earlier, is that you can live in the possibility of the future. Right then, as he wiped off the tears, he looked absolutely committed. He has so much more work to do.