The Witches Hat Experience

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When I was an art student at U. of Colorado decades – many decades – ago, I was introduced to Meininger’s Art Supply in Denver, established in 1881 by Emil Meininger. It was already an institution then and by now it is a monument; family owned and dedicated to the passionate pursuit of creative arts. It is a supply destination with a beating heart. My own artistic soul found every tool, book, easel, paper and paint that it needed there and still does. A trip to Meininger’s, be it the Denver location on South Broadway, the Boulder location on The Hill or the Colorado Springs location is like discovering the art Mecca. You can learn more in this link:

In 1922, Emil’s daughter-in-law, Josephine, bought a cabin in the Insmont area of Bailey, Colorado,  on top of a hill overlooking the picturesque South Platte River about 45 miles southwest of Denver. They named the cabin Blue Jay Bunk after the Stellar’s Jays in the area and Josephine and their four children, including Henry (“Cap”) Meininger, spent summers there without inside water or electricity for many years, while her husband, the elder Henry “The Chief” Meininger, worked at the store Monday through Friday. He took the Denver train to Bailey on the weekends, and the cabin became a popular place where he and Josephine entertained family and friends.

“Cap” Meininger died in 1991, and left Blue Jay Bunk to his children, including Henry pictured above on the left, with his son Judd Meininger. Henry lived in the cabin year-round throughout the 1970’s making improvements and cutting cords of firewood for the winter, while still commuting to work at Meininger’s in Denver.

“Next to Blue Jay Bunk are three houses running down the hill, all built about the same time as the cabin in the early 1900’s. All the old houses, having been built as summer cabins for fishing lodges and summer camps, have needed much restoration and upgrading to keep them from deteriorating. In 1985 Henry married Betsy Palin and together they bought the green house next to the cabin, and Henry’s sister bought the white house next to that. Henry eventually bought the house at the bottom of the hill that has always been called Witches Hat for its conical roof. Henry bought that house and had it restored just in time for his son, Judd, to be married there in 2011.”   excerpted from the brochure titled Meininger’s Insmont Retreat, Bailey, Colorado

Yesterday I was fortunate to find myself arriving at Witches Hat with my artist friend Peter Heineman who was participating in the Golden Triangle Museum District plein air paint out, an event hosted on Sunday by Henry, Betsy and Judd Meininger. Peter remembered the property well, having spent time there when it was owned by Larry Weckbaugh even before the Meininger’s purchased it. Good times were had under that roof, and another of Peter’s friends, Bill Fifield, was the woodworking artist who hand carved much of the interior detail surrounding doors and mirrors, plus adding his personal touch in other areas of the cabin.

The day was perfect with fall colors, Colorado’s deep blue sky, the S. Platte gurgling along across the back meadow, artists with easels sprinkled throughout the property and great stories from Henry and Judd about this legendary property. The whimsical Witches Hat house is like nothing you have ever seen, with old photos and funky art, a well-loved and hard-working kitchen, nooks and crannies, additions and secret places to explore, all arranged around that famous high-ceilinged cone. If those walls could talk! Betsy had a lovely lunch which we enjoyed outside on the deck, topped off with a cookie assortment and a tray of the fanciest, most chocolate-y pastries, contrasting nicely with the rustic rural setting. It was a day to be remembered…thanks to a family that has meant so much to Colorado artists and the history of art in this area. Who knew that some fine day, far into the future of one freshman fine art student at CU who knew to shop at Meininger’s, such a day would come. Life is never dull, is it? Many thanks to Henry, Betsy and Judd Meininger – a family I had always admired from afar – for making some grand memories for me.

Denver‘s Golden Triangle Museum District is home to art galleries, a first Friday artwalk, restaurants, bars and popular arts attractions like the Denver Art Museum …

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Year Long Canvas Week # 10 – Reprieve


The YLC has had nothing new added since last week due to a freakish spring SNOWSTORM in the Denver area and the mountains, making a commute into the city for Monday art class a crazy idea even for me. It was freezing cold; the snow kept coming down, and what began as a slushy rain on Saturday turned more syrupy and thick and then serious by Sunday. On Monday morning it had snowed all night, gotten much colder and morphed into black ice on the highways and a total accumulation of about 7 inches south of Denver where I live and 24-36 inches in the foothills and higher country. The skiers are nuts with joy; the highways up to ski altitudes are clogged with people ditching work and Arapahoe Basin will stay open until June, they have announced. Here where I live, today is better with just cloudy skies, temps in the 50;s and snow nicely melting off all roads. By the weekend we’ll be into the low 80’s.

Oh I know, I could have worked on the YLC at home, but I like to “do her” during class because the energy is so palpable and positive you could cut it with a knife in that classroom. But I also, yes I do, I really really do, like her so well the way she is that I used the “snow day” excuse to give her a reprieve until next week’s class. That’s legal and I made an executive decision to let her rest. I need to think and carefully calculate what will happen to her next.

I actually spent the snow day re-working an old 18×24 inch canvas that I had stored in a closet, and I am pleased with what happened. Often the best work I do is giving life-support to old compositions that I became so disgusted with at some point that I shoved them away into a closet, letting them rest and slip into an intentionally induced art coma. Not as punishment but to give us both a time out, allowing frustrations to settle down. Taking them out, months later, breathing oxygen into them and seeing them with new eyes is usually worth the effort. So yesterday I did that and the attached photo is the finished composition.

?????????? Mixed Media painting titled WHEN IT ALL COMES DOWN, copyright 2014, Jo Ann Brown-Scott

This painting surprised me. The places that are re-worked and covered up with new ideas amount to about 3/4 of the finished image. Only the orange area is original and untouched. The decision was what to cover up and what to enhance, as is usually the case. If you zoom in you will see that there are some shapes delineated with black ink, almost like boulders and stones falling. The orange area has a definite sun, and a sunset type of glow. You might choose to interpret this as a literal landscape with some kind of rockslide and a sun setting above a horizon but that would be the easy way out.

I prefer to think of it as a slide, a break, a tumble of some “LIFE” issues happening in a chaotic rush of action placed in contrast with the permanence of the sun rising and falling every 24 hours in a constant and reassuring event that tells us all that some things never change. The sun will come and go, regularly alerting us that life goes on. Thus the title – WHEN IT ALL COMES DOWN, life continues and hope endures. That’s my story on this one.



The Creative Epiphany – Art Imitates Life, as they say…


In my previous post I talked about beginning my first art class in decades at Denver Art Students League, and what it felt like to me, finding myself in a bare bones classroom again filled with people dedicated to the pursuit of creating abstract expressionist paintings. Let me just say that it was a thrill. To put it mildly. It was an indication, a life-marker in fact, that I was again going to take my art career seriously. Oh I have taken it seriously long before this, but there has recently been an interval of time when I was teaching art and not progressing much in the level of my own art. I did that for 3 years. Oh yes you do learn from teaching – you learn from your students and you stretch yourself as well because you are always searching for great new techniques to demonstrate. But as for me, I did not paint privately as much as I should have, for juried shows and galleries. I turned out a steady stream of art but none of it was critiqued and judged by anyone who was truly qualified, which is a mistake because an artist needs feedback and constructive criticism.

I also mentioned, in the previous post, the project I was offered – and challenged with – on the first day of class by my instructor. It is the challenge of making a commitment to work on one particular painting for a solid year, not to the exclusion of all other paintings but in addition to them – in other words I begin to do a painting and give it my thoughts and intermittent attention for a year’s worth of my time. I walk up to it, I work on it for however long it feels right, I put it down for a while, giving both me and the painting a refreshing rest to catch our breath. Of course most every artist works on some paintings over a long period of time during which the he/she artist might purposely ignore the piece, leaving it still alive but in a dormant coma in the closet, and then one day the he/she artist decides to pull it out of the closet and look at it again to actually “see it again for the first time”. That practice is highly beneficial, and usually in an instant, the he/she artist has new ideas popping into mind and the painting is conscious again, gasping for oxygen as its life gets moving in a second-chance new direction. I love saving the lives of  forgotten canvases. It is frugal and quite satisfying and it makes the art Buddha happy. The practice has proved effective time and again for me and many others. But not for a solid year…..and not while leaving it out in the studio where it takes up space for a 365 day period of time…. staring at you, screaming for attention, often driving you crazy I would assume. I am sure I will get sick & tired of looking at it sometimes. But I also assume that many learning opportunities will be associated with this challenge, which of course I immediately accepted. It has to be an exercise in patience, perseverance, dedication, determination, love/hate relationships, keeping an open mind, not being discouraged, striving consistently for excellence and not settling for the easiest and most obvious solutions, to name just a few of the ways to learn and mature as an artist from the experience.

Sounds a lot like life, don’t you think? Wow. Art imitates life all the damn time, in case you had not noticed.

I will be blogging about this, from time to time, with pictures of the work in progress. I have already had a small but significant wake-up call observation. This painting must be large. I could not work on a 24×36 for a long and winding, roller-coaster year….I need SPACE for a whole year. But guess what – I can’t fit a huge painting in my car, and I will have to be taking the canvas into my classroom from time to time for critiques. I have worked on very large canvases before but I had a different car then.

One option would be to do a diptych, each piece as large as my car could accommodate. Maybe that will work. I’ll figure it out I am sure.

So how large is your life canvas? Does it fit in your vehicle or are you living large?

The Creative Epiphany – The Life-Support of Art


Breathe deeply and open your senses to the wonders around you. Be alive!  Live in the now. You are a human being, able to lift yourself up through the joy of imagery. You are an emotional sponge – soak up what you need. Art is to be used – it is a tool for information and life enhancement, available at every turn.

Go to it when you need it. The beating art is your life support.

“The saving of lives, for an artist, is surely a daily act. Artists are resuscitators of dreams, rescuers of the abandoned, lodgers of the unwanted, and keepers of faith. In our lifesaving, we are saved. In polishing the souls of others, the artist polishes her own with her resurrections. She can’t help herself – giving life is the ultimate creative act. ‘As soon as there is life, there is danger,’ said Ralph Waldo Emerson. ‘I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I am not afraid of falling into my inkpot.’ ” 

Written by Sara, excerpted from the March 4th, 2014 Letter of Robert Genn, which I highly recommend for all of you who enjoy being enlightened about the creative life.

Here’s the link:

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From that website – Informed and successful artists and other creative folk from more than 115 countries visit this website for information, inspiration, artist advice, friendship and connectivity. Most have signed up to the Twice-Weekly Letters, which is FREE and we strongly encourage you to also subscribe to get the most benefit from this community. It has also been our goal to make this website an online resource of information for artists and a place to share with others what you are doing, such as through the Art Show Calendar, Art Workshop Calendar and Premium Art Listings. One of the most popular pages is the Art Quotes page, and we also share other things like a listing of Art Retreats available to artists, books, videos, and more.

I had to share this brilliant quote from Sara – her quote says so beautifully what is in the heart of every artist. Many people see us creative types as passive, introverted, perhaps even wimp-ish, but we are indeed the gutsy ones who smear our souls across canvas, following that brave effort by asking  for comments from perfect strangers. With our images we offer solace and comfort to the suffering, joy to the truly alive, hope to those who seek it and reassurance that life must go on. People who appreciate the artistic efforts of centuries discover all that and more.

People are moved by the sensuality of color, the fascination of texture and the thrill of a striking composition. That is wonderful. But art is not always pretty, and when it is not gorgeous to look at in the classical sense, you can be sure that especially then, when the image is not necessarily beautiful, it is still thought-provoking and it has a profound message to deliver. My wish is that people would follow that less-traveled visual path more often and care enough to discover the intent of the artist, the bravery required to make such a statement and the value therein. Dipping the pen of that artist and the viewer into the blackest, deepest well, as Ralph Waldo Emerson alludes to in the above quote within Sara’s quote, in other words. Art is so very all-inclusive – there is something for absolutely every one of us whatever mood we are in at the time. There is a time and a place for it all. When you need some life-support you will find it. Take a day trip to your local museum, visit an art class, stop into a gallery, go online to websites like or just visit BING or GOOGLE and ask for images of your choice. You have the world of art at your fingertips, for your viewing pleasure and sustenance – an easy way to take you right out of yourself and into another world.