DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
Karyn Gabaldon has never taken a business course.
Yet this mostly self-taught artist has run successful art galleries in Durango for 30 years, showcasing work that captures the essence of the region. Tonight, her gallery doors will open for a celebration and showcase of her brand new work, fittingly titled, “‘Heart and Soul of Durango’ ... A River’s Journey.”
Gabaldon, who began her art career as a pottery student at Fort Lewis College, was drawn to creative pursuits from an early age. In grade school, she found herself ahead of her classmates.
“Teachers didn’t know what to do with me, so they sent me into the halls to do art projects,” she said.
In 1980, Karyn opened Bismillah Pottery in Durango, her first studio gallery, and developed a following for functional clay pieces.
However, in the 1990s a medical condition in her wrists common to potters gently pushed Gabaldon in another artistic direction – painting. She began with watercolors and subscribed to a video library to learn technical basics, including color theory and perspective.
“Picasso and Rembrandt and the great artists all studied technique first before they became abstract expressionists. Now I find myself in this more contemporary place. I’m overflowing with ideas,” she said. Along with her development as a painter came a passion for acrylics, which give her a “richer color palate, more fluidity.”
After 14 years of running her second gallery, Ultima, which featured the work of other renowned craftspeople, sculptors and jewelry makers, Gabaldon sold the business and took a two-year sabbatical. She then opened her current location in the Stillwell Building across from the Strater Hotel, a true cornerstone space where she experiences the ebb and flow of life in Durango.
“This gallery has become a check-in point, a place where people can come and just experience,” she said.
The soothing vibe of Karyn Gabaldon Fine Arts, her welcoming spirit and her choice location all allow her to embody a favorite childhood fairytale.
“I feel like the gatekeeper of Durango. People come and visit every time they are in town. I have been given a job I love,” she said.
Just in time for her 30th anniversary, Gabaldon has unveiled a series of new paintings, including some using fiber board instead of canvas. For those who have never experienced her work, prepare to be stilled.
“I try to capture that special moment when something happens. That’s what all these paintings are: Ephemeral moments in nature,” she said.
The interplay of color and light in Gabldon’s work transports the viewer to the exact sunset second when a cloud turns peach before dissolving, or the river appears purple to mirror the twilight sky. Another access point into her work is to look for the distinctive “window” effect that many of her pieces feature. The subtle square shapes that she paints into her landscapes are inspired by the design of her home, a well-windowed structure overlooking the Animas River. They reflect both Gabaldon’s viewpoint looking from her window and “portals to other dimensions” within her paintings.
Running a gallery and providing its feature artwork is no easy task. She paints six to eight hours a day when she is not at the gallery. To maintain the inner focus and peace so apparent in her paintings,she meditates or does tai chi. As for her business, “I run the gallery very intuitively. I found I have a knack for working with people.”
What does 30 years of making art and running galleries in Durango feel like? “Overwhelming, I feel really blessed.”
Chelsea Terris is a freelance writer and social media specialist. Reach her at email@example.com.