By Jennie Lay
Chula Beauregard has found a knack for layering people into her plein air paintings. Her canvases that once featured Yampa Valley landscapes with site-specific shadows, game trails and seasonal shifts, now make room for the wily characters who inhabit these spaces. Historic figures are not exempt from insertion. What is essential to Beauregard is that they re-emerge on an authentic, identifiable landscape.
“The people need to add to the story,” she says. “That’s a part of the storytelling that I enjoy. I live in that story all the time – and now I’m delving back into my memories.”
Mining a lifetime of experiences growing up in Steamboat Springs, Beauregard has turned her painterly eye toward the sparkle of the 101-year-old winter carnival. Her winter carnival series captures not only the iconic natural stage upon which the events happen, but the overriding sense of wonder that they cast over the community.
In mid-January, a large study of the rodeo ground chariot races was getting its finishing touches on the easel in Beauregard’s Strawberry Park studio. The views here are no detriment to this oil painter’s plein air foundation.
Chariot racing is a carnival event from days gone by – an adrenaline-fueled spectacle marked by the agility and speed of horses. “It is fun to bring something back that isn’t here anymore,” Beauregard says, mulling over her painting. She relied on photographs from the 90s to draw out the action, but the lighting and the shadows are elements she gleaned this winter, going outside to paint again and again, fact-checking the background into which she was re-inserting history.
Howelsen Hill has been a powerful backdrop in Beauregard’s life. She was never a ski racer, but fond memories trickle through a lifetime of winter carnivals. Over the years, she played flute in the ski band and admired the adrenaline-fueled street events. Favorite high school memories were gleaned from days building carnival snow sculptures along Lincoln Avenue.
This is where she started her series: painting the snow sculpture construction. Soon after, stories from her husband, Cactus Beauregard’s, legendary ski family (the Bowes) crept into the narrative. “When I started the paintings, it opened up their experiences and so many memories of being at the center of winter carnival,” she says revealing no small admiration for the intricacies of daredevil acts from gelande ski jumping to skijoring.
“Putting people in the landscape is a lot harder. You can make a tree big and it doesn’t matter, but put a horse in there with the wrong leg and everyone knows. Plus, you need the pizzazz of the plein air,” she says. “I want to keep the painterly part…not making it so right-on that it’s photographic.”
Beauregard’s winter carnival series has showcased the fireworks, as seen from the hill above her Strawberry Park home. She made a fascinating light study to paint the night show’s human slalom. Winter Sports Club flags from the parade struck her fancy for their fluidity and color, but also for the “beauty of such strong skiers, skate skiing without poles, but waving the giant flags…and the mother ship there in the background, Howelsen Hill.”
Now Beauregard’s sons, Lynx, 4, and Fischer, 5, are skiing at Howelsen Hill. “They’re headed for Winter Sports Club. It’s a natural,” she says. “It’s like asking one of the ranching families if they’re going to ride a horse. We’re a ski family.”
In her long years of cowbell ringing to come, it’s clear that this is one fan who will be recording the glint of the snow crystals and the shadows on the ski jump as carefully as she watches two young ski racers. This is how Beauregard remains true to the landscape and the light: “I want it to be factually correct. There are so many stories past and present that I know. To set it in a landscape that is familiar to me is important.”
Chula Beauregard’s winter carnival series is on exhibit at the Wild Horse Gallery. See her public art around Steamboat Springs, including the Bike Town USA mural downtown and the Western town façade in the Stockbridge playground.