Ted Holteen/Durango Herald
With almost 200 submissions from artists near and far, making the cut at this year’s 36th annual Juried Exhibition at the Durango Arts Center wasn’t going to be easy. And with jurors George Welch and Phyllis Woods making their first-ever trip to Durango, past successes wouldn’t give anyone a leg up on the competition.
“We’re neutral and we don’t know anyone – the names don’t a mean a thing to us,” Welch said. “We embraced ourselves in these hallowed hills just for this experience.”
Such fresh perspective allowed the husband-and-wife team, who divide their time between Tucson, Ariz., and New York City, to select an exhibit that filled the walls of the Barbara Conrad Gallery to capacity with 95 pieces, the most accepted for the juried show. But Welch said that didn’t mean the gallery was full.
“There’s hardly any ceramics, sculpture or jewelry, and it doesn’t fully challenge the physical set in here,” Welch said.
It could be said that many of the pieces not making the cut were too similar and too expected. Welch has been teaching art at Pima Community College since 1971 is well-known for his own very large, colorful abstracts; he’s shown in galleries in Arizona, New York and California for more than 30 years. Woods is a jeweler and importer of art and jewelry from West Africa, where she travels regularly. Those pieces that caught the jurors’ eyes had to be something outside the norm.
“There were a lot of landscapes, but those are minimized here. We were looking for something a bit edgier,” Woods said.
Despite any shortcomings, Welch and Woods said what they’ll take away from their visit to Durango is the collective quality of the art and its place in the town.
During Friday’s opening reception, both jurors lauded the talents of the many artists. They said not even their hometown of Tucson, Ariz., has a facility to match the energy happening at the Arts Center.
“It’s been a delight and I’ve never seen such a dynamic place as this,” Woods said. “I encourage all of you interested in pursuing your art to stay with it and you have a beautiful opportunity here to make it happen.”
In particular, a few lucky artists impressed the jurors enough to be singled out at Friday’s opening. Rebecca Koeppen won best in show for her painting “Riverwaves: Free Falling.”
Val Uschuk was elated after winning second place for “Secret Life of Aloe.” She yelled, “I literally want to kiss everyone!” after her name was announced.
Third place went to Margaret Barge for “Oceans – Motion.” Each of the three award winners received a cash prize.
A selection of pieces not chosen for the juried exhibition are on display in the Salon de Refuses at Steamworks Brewing Co.