T he Fantastic Four came from all around the country, and are the latest in a long line of resident artists at Elsewhere Studios.
One is from Appleton, Wis., and designs fashion out of her own life drawings.
One is from Boulder and works with clay and paint to reflect images drawn from being raised in a Jewish household.
One is from Virginia Beach, Va., and uses bound journals to express psychological theories of emotion as vehicles for art therapy.
One is from St. Petersburg, Fla., and got through an existential crisis with the help of a cyborg Koala.
Each artist brought her own backgrounds and talents but they all got to the same place: creating art in Paonia.
The Elsewhere residency program brings several artists to Paonia throughout the year. Last Thursday night the most recent batch, dubbed the Fantastic Four, gave presentations showing off their latest work.
Even though all four hail from vastly different backgrounds and practice diverse artistic processes, they each agreed that Paonia is a mecca for artists.
"Paonia is an absolutely beautiful location. You have the mountains all around you, the flowering fruit trees," Elyse Mische said. "And then the people. The people are so welcoming, it's like all the people know me right away. That's been so comforting."
Mische has the special distinction of having earned a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
"I'm the first Elsewhere resident to have a residency funded by the NEA," Mische said. "So my residency is free of cost and I get a small stipend to support my creative processes."
Mische's grant is specifically earmarked for her work in the upcoming Zeitgeist Circus Fashion Show, May 20-21 at the Paradise Theatre. The annual event put on by the Unicorn Arts Collective always brings out a standing-room-only crowd and is one of the highlights of the art calendar each year.
Mische is working on the designs for her clothing line to be modeled at the fashion show. She went in character last Thursday night, appearing as the character Sage while she described her process.
"What I'm wearing tonight is one of the characters from my line," Mische explained. "I'm a mixed media illustrator, which means I start with two dimensional illustrations that are rich in narrative and symbolism about time, life and death.
"Then what I do is take those themes that I have illustrated and translate them into what I call life drawings," she said. "I make props and costumes for myself, and then paint backdrops and position myself in front of the backdrops. I become part of the photograph, so I become my drawing in three dimensions. That's what I'll be doing for the line."
Mische has flourished in the nurturing, artistic atmosphere in Paonia.
"I've been to many small towns but I've never been around so many creative people with such creative energy," she said. "My creative juices, ever since I've been here, have been at a high."
Amy Katz completed a four-month residency and displayed art pieces featuring several media, including paint, clay and wood. Images of nature and community are common themes in her work as well as explorations of Jewish mysticism.
"I ended up turning to a few other mediums. I started working in clay and crafting the seed pods and feathers," Katz said. "I also took out my oil paints and kind of turned to the people and the communities that I've been most moved and affected by, and I started making these paintings.
"It has been a really amazing process, all of them are from photographs," she added. "I've taken these kind of tender or funny moments and then have brought them back to share with friends. It's made me feel closer to all the communities I've become a part of. I just feel really delighted by that kind of underground network."
Katz experienced an artistic revelation when she spent time at the Creamery in Hotchkiss.
"In their clay studio I found myself really engaged in making ceramic art, which led to pieces inspired by being raised in a Jewish home," Katz said. "I feel like I work kind of intuitively and I like working with clay because I feel like I do have an idea, but then it tells me a direction to go in, too. A couple of times things came through that I just wasn't planning on."
Katz knew she was in a special place as soon as she got to Paonia.
"I felt as soon as I drove into the valley a sense of beauty and ease," Katz said. "I feel like art and creativity need space in order to come forth and be made. To be able to have that space where you feel comfortable, I feel like my prayers have been nourished in a big way."
Kelsey Courage completed a one-month residency that was short in time but long in meaningful experiences. She came to Paonia under difficult circumstances as she arrived shortly after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"When I got the diagnosis I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," Courage said. "It made me dive in deeper into psychology and the relationship between art and the personal psyche. Art has always kind of been my therapy and my way of working through things so a lot of my work ends up being very psychological."
Courage works in mixed media, specializing in metalsmithing and jewelry before her residency. At Elsewhere she worked with leather and bound journals.
"I wanted to dabble in some leatherwork and journal binding," Courage said. "I wanted to do something fun and really tactile."
A highlight of her stay in Paonia was working at Land's End Foundry, where she carved wax molds and did some bronze work.
Coming from the East Coast, Courage found Paonia to be a renewing breath of fresh air.
"Paonia is a small town and I think it breeds a lot of friendliness and personality, and definitely a lot of artistic spirits," Courage said. "Artistic people tend to flock to each other. It was such a blessing to live around so many creative minds."
Like Courage, Chelsea Rowe used her time at Elsewhere to help her navigate some rough water in life.
"Graduating from college caused a bit of an existential crisis for me," Rowe said. "My residency ended up being a therapy thing."
Like the other artists, Rowe worked with mixed media and created a variety of pieces during her residency. Her cyborg Koala still generates much discussion. Last Thursday she showed slides and discussed a fabric screen she painted in gouche, an opaque watercolor, taken from a series of art deco wallpaper patterns.
"I like making something and putting it on somebody, and then taking pictures of it," Rowe said. "The end goal is when I leave here to have a series of paintings based on this slide show I have."
Coming from a big city, Rowe found inspiration and education in Paonia's small town pace of life.
"Here it's kind of like an old school, everybody helps everybody out, everybody wants to be a part of what you're doing and that's so refreshing," Rowe said. "There's all sorts of people who are willing to help you out."
The Fantastic Four will move on and create new work elsewhere, but their time in Paonia will forever bind them together as artists.