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In the modern West, it’s all too easy for urban and rural communities to co-exist as neighbors without really getting to know and understand one another. That’s why Ranchlands—the Colorado Springs–based ranching and ranch-management company that oversees more than 300,000 acres across four states—has come up with a creative way to bridge that divide.
For the past 19 years, Ranchlands has invited a select group of artists—some with farming experience, others with absolutely none—to spend three days at either the Chico Basin Ranch, outside of Colorado Springs, or the Medano Zapata Ranch, adjacent to Great Sand Dunes National Park. While they’re on the property, the artists are welcome to pitch in and help with chores or simply observe with a sketchbook in hand.
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At either location, artists get to see day-to-day life on a ranch from moving a herd and branding to welding and helping in the leather room. “You can come be a witness on whatever level you feel comfortable,” says artist Duke Beardsley, who has participated in a number of Ranchlands retreats over the years. “They let the ranch do the talking, and let you have your own experience.” Beardsley doesn’t like to predict what sort of creative spark will be lit before he arrives. “I never know what I am going to do until I am there,” he says. “It all depends on what we’re doing, who we’re with, the weather, what we are listening to, how much cold beer we’ve been drinking (it can get real hot out there), and how far we rode.”
There’s certainly no shortage of inspiration out on the range, with its big skies, herds of grazing bison, and views for miles. The profound effect of the retreat is reflected in the work of 10 artists—William Alther, Duke Beardsley, Sophy Brown, Terry Gardner, Mark Gould, Stephanie Hartshorn, Madeline Jorden, Robert Quimby, Jill Soukup, and Stephen Weaver—pictured here and on display in this year’s Ranchlands Art Exhibition, running through November 25 (with a special reception on Thursday, November 21), at the RiNo office of the Nature Conservancy.
“Our goal in doing this show is to provide a window into ranching as a way of life, and to illustrate the important work that is being done on the land,” says Duke Phillips, CEO and founder of Ranchlands. “Art is a great medium for seeing things from a new perspective; a way to build a conversation around ranching and how we as ranchers steward the land.”
If you go: The exhibition runs (by appointment) through November 25. A special event on Thursday, November 21 at 6 p.m. will feature Medano Zapata Ranch chef Chase Kelley wrangling appetizers including bison sausage and meatballs, local cheeses, and sourdough toasts topped with wild mushrooms. Ranchlands Mercantile items—including a range of leather belts and bags—will be available for sale too, with a special stamp-your-own leather keychain station. 3575 Ringsby Court, Suite 428