Positive Space

Telluride's Ah Haa School will kindle your inner artistic energy.

June 2010

The assignment my instructor gave me was daunting at first. And the guy peeling chiles wasn't making things any easier for me. My mission: to shove a camera in the faces of total strangers—something my bashful nature wouldn't typically let me do, except that I'd signed up for a "photographing people" workshop at Telluride's Ah Haa School for the Arts. So here I was, prowling the farmers' market for ripe photography subjects. My first victim was the pepper man.

But every time I raised my camera, his face shuttered. I tried all the distraction tips my instructor had suggested—I chatted with him, got him to tell me stories—both of which drew him out beautifully, until the moment I slid my eye behind the viewfinder.

So I moved on to the flower stand, where a smiling man in a white cowboy hat spent time bundling sunflowers. The brilliant orange-yellow blooms contrasted marvelously with his blue denim shirt, so I asked to take his picture. "Sure," he agreed shyly, which triggered an outburst of ribbing from his fellow salesmen. As my cowboy grinned, I kept the shutter button depressed—and, to my surprise, managed to capture shots that summed up the jovial florist perfectly.

My husband, Ben, and I had come to Telluride to enjoy an "Escape Artist" package offered by the Ah Haa School and the historic New Sheridan Hotel. The getaways vary and are scheduled year-round: Workshops last from two to five days, and topics go beyond photography to include pastels, painting, drawing, jewelry making, and even welding and ceramics. I chose "The Art of Photography: People," a two-day course paired with a three-night stay at the New Sheridan. While Ben fished Telluride's trout streams, I'd learn to channel my inner Henri Cartier-Bresson.

We arrived at the New Sheridan on Thursday evening, when the hotel and its restaurant were the hub of activity. Seated at sidewalk tables, sweater-clad diners savored the crisp summer night. Happily, however, none of the buzz infiltrated our room.

The handsome brick hotel, which was built in 1895, received a full face-lift in the summer of 2008 to install sound insulation and remove the historic creaks, squeaks, and drafts. The renovated rooms now feature plush carpet, Egyptian cotton sheets, and Victorian fixtures that look old but are in fact new. The result is an appealing blend of vintage and modern accents.

Before unpacking our bags, we pulled on the hotel's plush bathrobes and padded up to the rooftop hot tub. Sounds of sidewalk revelers drifted to our lofty perch as we soaked in the water and gazed at the stars.

The next morning, Ben headed for the river and I strolled to the Ah Haa School, just four blocks away. Housed in a restored train depot on the edge of the San Miguel River, the school was founded in 1991 by bookmaker Daniel Tucker. The organization boasts a national reputation and organizes workshops taught by an impressive lineup of local and visiting artists, such as watercolorist Susan Billings, who studied under Dale Chihuly, and pastel artist Bruce Gómez, who is well-known for his landscapes.