Cheryl St. John’s favorite place to paint is a secret that is not so secret anymore.
“Bristlecones and Wildflowers,” by Cheryl St. John, 2015, oil, 30 x 40 in.
Among artists, the popularity of Crested Butte, Colorado, may be attributed in part to the Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational (which is mutating into a once-every-three-years event, leaving room for a Crested Butte Plein Air Open — go here for details). But the spot is also popular with mountain bikers and hikers. And in the summer, a wildflower festival draws even more people. “It may be the wildflower capital of the world,” St. John says. “Last year I saw more people than ever, and it was the end of June. The dust that people made from the dirt roads made it hard to see sometimes. Crested Butte is being discovered; it’s not as quiet as it used to be.”
Kebler Pass, site of a large stand of aspens
“Valley View,” by Cheryl St. John, 2014, oil, 10 x 12 in.
“About to Clear,” by Cheryl St. John, 2012, oil, 36 x 48 in.
But Crested Butte is still relatively quiet. You can drive out of town for 15 minutes and be away from almost everyone. Just 10 minutes down the road is Kebler Pass, which St. John says is home to a notable stand of aspen trees. “It’s one of the oldest groves of aspens in the United States,” says the artist. “The trunks are huge.” Elsewhere she finds streams, lakes, the previously mentioned wildflowers, and, of course, mountains. “Crested Butte kind of sits in a bowl,” says St. John. “There’s the backside of Maroon Bells, with their pinks, lavenders, and greens, and another range to the south — the Elk Mountains — that are more granite and grayish. You can see all different kinds of things — there’s great variety.”
St. John’s setup on Gothic Road in 2013
“Past and Present,” by Cheryl St. John, 2014, oil 24 x 24 in.
St. John tries to go at least once in every season. She loves them all, but July may be her favorite time of year there. “In the wintertime you have beautiful snow scenes, and the fall has color, but in July, when the wildflowers are blooming and there is still some snow on the peaks — that’s my favorite. Early spring, not so much. It’s mud season. Later spring is good.” She lives just three hours away, so some years she gets to Crested Butte much more often than once per season.
One of St. John’s paintings in progress on location during the 2014 Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational
“First Day of Summer,” by Cheryl St. John, 2014, oil 11 x 14 in.
Downtown Crested Butte, Colorado
As with many Coloradoans, aspens like the ones around Crested Butte are special to St. John. Her paintings of them show it. “They have always been of interest,” she says. “They are fun trees to paint. They have a dance to them. They have good shapes, and they are just different; they have a play to them.”