The western and wildlife art of Rudl Mergelman is on display this month at the Grand Mesa Arts & Events Center (GMAEC).
Mergelman is a Colorado native and descendent of pioneer families who homesteaded in Iola Basin. It was cattle country, a place now submerged beneath Blue Mesa Reservoir. He grew up in Gunnison and graduated from Western State College (now WCU) with a degree in art and industrial art. He taught for a time at Eagle Valley High School and in Gunnison, but eventually he returned to painting and sculpting focusing on western scenes and wildlife.
He's always gravitated toward art and his interest was stimulated early by two significant childhood events. He was just a youngster when his mother bought him a paint-by-numbers kit. After trying it out, he was bored to tears so he found a blank bit of wood and started painting on his own.
"It was a mountain scene," he recalls, "She may have kept it around somewhere."
Meanwhile the nearby college was a summer magnet, drawing teachers for two-week recertification classes. And those teachers often taught practice programs at the local elementary school, including a variety of art classes. Since the school was across the street, Mergelman took advantage of the hands-on sessions and his skill and interest grew.
In his artist biography, Mergelman reflects on his subject matter: "My love of art always centered around my equal love for the American cowboy and regional wildlife. I am fortunate to have always been around good cowboys, good horses and good outfits. This has been the subject of most of my work and I have been a student of the western lifestyle since childhood. I have always based my work on authenticity, true life situations and using the light of the Colorado landscape."
His work has appeared in galleries in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. The family eventually settled in Florence where Mergelman continued to create. Eventually he won multiple awards and was active in the Florence arts community. And it was his work with fellow artists that led to an unexpected opportunity.
"The Florence Arts Council had been holding art shows once a month or so," he recalls, "Then the First Baptist Church, which was struggling to remain open, contacted us and -- well -- they gave us their building." The result was the Bell Tower Cultural Center, an impressive facility which is entering its fifth year of operation.
Based on his experience with a successful arts center, it was only natural that Mergelman opened his art exhibit earlier this month with encouraging words for Cedaredge's new facility. "I've had shows all over," he said, "And I've never had one in a room as nice as this. This Arts Center is a treasure that will give back to the community." In a later interview he stressed that the success of an arts center relies on its volunteers. "Performers and artists come and go," he said, "If not for volunteers, an arts center doesn't work. Volunteers are the heart of the center and they are the face of the center. And the more active a center is, the easier it is to recruit dedicated volunteers."
Mergelman was correct about the importance of volunteers because he himself was recruited to display his work by a GMAEC volunteer and longtime friend. Cedaredge resident, Judy Fairchild, has been active in the Cedaredge center from its inception. She serves on the GMAEC board of directors and, when the group was considering artists for the newly opened Starr Family Gallery, she naturally thought of Mergelman -- her former schoolmate. She and Mergelman attended Gunnison schools together from kindergarten on and so it took little persuading to draft the western artist for a local show. And also it didn't hurt that his older brother, Les, lives in Cedaredge and is active in the community.
So, the younger Mergelman came to Cedaredge.
And when he arrived a few days ago to set up his show, he was in for a surprise. He expected to see Judy. He expected to see Les and his sister-in-law, Dorothy. What he didn't expect was that he would discover yet another Cedaredge connection -- with an old college chum. That long-lost friend, Dale Russell Smith is also a GMAEC volunteer who serves on the center's advisory council. "It was a surprise to see Dale. We were in a lot of art classes together back then," said Mergelman, "But I hadn't seen him since college."
Mergelman and his wife Deborah still live in Florence. They have a blended family of two sons and a daughter. Daughter Audrie is an accomplished painter who teaches elementary art in Loveland. Son August is a talented writer and teacher with published plays to his credit. Todd raises the Mergelman grandchildren in Florence.
The Rudl Mergelman exhibit will be open for viewing until Nov. 29 when the artist will return and host an afternoon forum to discuss his work. The GMAEC's Starr Family Gallery is open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The center is located at the intersection of West Main Street and SW 2nd Street in downtown Cedaredge.
Those interested in supporting the center through donations or by volunteering can visit during open hours or sign up online at the GMAEC website: https://www.grandmesaartscenter.com/