New Castle becoming a destination for art? |

New Castle becoming a destination for art?

Stina Sieg Post Independent

NEW CASTLE, Colorado ” There’s something special happening in New Castle. Winnie Johnson can certainly feel it.

As it was getting dark on Halloween night, she was at Patti’s Main Street Coffeehouse and hanging a collection of paintings alongside Jacquetta Green. The place glowed, and there was vitality in the air. The artsy energy felt fresh.

Before Green, a lifelong artist and 30-year valley resident, dashed away to see a movie, she mentioned the possibility of New Castle becoming a “destination for art.”

“I think New Castle has a lot going for it,” she said.

The Basalt Middle School art teacher spoke of her time in the area, about how she’d moved all over the valley before settling in the town. She talked about her loose, colorful paintings a bit, as well. Done in oil, they have a calmness about them. The one portrait, of a satisfied-looking woman, is surrounded by images of coffee mugs and landscapes. It all looks fun, kind if whimsical.

“It’s a good expression of some kind of feeling that comes from inside and will hopefully make the viewer feel happy,” she said.

Then, pretty much, she was off.

Johnson had an altogether different vibe about her. Unlike Green, she’s new to this whole art thing ” and to New Castle, actually. She moved there 18 months ago from Nebraska, with her husband, Richard. Later in the conversation, she spoke sweetly about how much she appreciates Patti Reich, the shop’s owner, for opening up her heart (and blank wall) “in such a welcoming way.” Every month, Reich features another artist at her businesses, and Johnson stressed what a step in the right direction she thinks that is.

But first, she was too excited about what she’d created herself not to talk about it.

“I think my very favorite thing to do is make my own color,” she said.

A moment later, she added, smiling, “I just ” I love it.”

Though the greens and reds and blues in her work blend well with Green’s, the look is altogether new. Johnson’s pieces are simpler, filled mostly with non-representational patterns and shapes. Entirely self-taught, she uses materials most people wouldn’t normally associate with art, namely orthodonture plaster and joint compound, which add a definite texture. This all came about, she explained, after a conversation she had with another local artist. The idea of using spackle in paintings came up, and eventually Johnson decided to try dental plaster as well. One reason for this, of course, is that her husband is a dentist. Also, she simply wants to explore.

“Sometimes you just come to a point in your life, and you find your wings,” she said.

For her, that point was New Castle.

When she and Richard picked up and moved, they didn’t know a soul there. They came because their son, Chris, lives in Carbondale, and they had a strong sense he wouldn’t ever be coming back to Nebraska. They thought they’d retire, but the cost of this valley convinced them otherwise. So, they had to try things that were completely new. She, a former teacher, became a waitress for the first in her life, serving and baking at Patti’s. Richard took a part-time position as a teller at Alpine Bank in Glenwood and forced himself to learn all those complex computer systems. Somehow, the transitions were pretty smooth.

She’s still kind of shocked by that resiliency.

“We’ve reinvented ourselves, in a way, and it’s quite cathartic,” she said. “It feels very freeing for me to be here.”

The proof of that is all over the coffee shop’s wall.

Something about being in such a new spot, with its mountain air that she described as “so delicious” that she could “chew it,” has brought her into her artistic own. Before she came to this part of the world, she was doing a bit of watercolor and was still looking for a medium that moved her. Now, she’s more prolific than ever before.

That night, without a shred of ego, she looked so proud, too.

“It’s colorful, it’s happy,” she said, of those pieces hanging next to her. “My gosh, with everything that’s going on in the world, we need some happy.”

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

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