Nature can be a huge influence on art, and when something disastrous happens in nature – such as the Gold King Mine spill that overwhelmed the Animas River with its mustard-yellow plume last August – artists are compelled to do what artists do: They take to their canvas of choice as a way to express how an event such as the spill makes them feel.
On the one-year anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill, we take a look back at what some of them created:
Karyn GabaldonThe spill “affected me to the core,” Durango painter Karyn Gabaldon said. “I think it made me much more aware of the river. We live on the river, so I think it just made me really tune into it like never before.” Gabaldon wasn’t satisfied with painting just a few pictures of the Animas; she dedicated an entire show to it. “Homage to El Rio De Las Animas Perdidas” opened at Karyn Gabaldon Fine Arts this past May, and Gabaldon said that creating the pieces for the show wasn’t hard, and, in fact, the process is ongoing. “Oh, it was (easy),” she said. “It just kept rolling: One thing kept rolling after the other, and I haven’t stopped yet. I’m still painting the river – who knows how long? It might be the rest of my life. It’s really taken over my painting focus.”Gabaldon said that the artistic process has had a positive impact that is continuing. “It creates so much with all the tourists now coming in, it creates so much conversation and we talk about it a lot (in the gallery),” Gabaldon said. “And so it’s become something beyond what I ever could have imagined, and that’s why I think I have to keep painting it.”Tim KapustkaFor graphic designer and visual artist Tim Kapustka, the mine spill was a shock. As well as being a founding member of Studio & and running Cabbage Creative, he’s also an avid fly-fisherman.
“The river is a big deal to me, I spend a lot of time in it,” Kapustka said. “I was actually out of town when it happened, so I had to watch it from a distance, and it was horrible.
“I thought for sure that this fishery, this artery that goes through our town is dead for decades. It was overwhelming. It was huge.”
Kapustka said that while he “didn’t sit down and say, ‘I have to make art about this,’” he did create artwork about the Animas for Studio &’s Day of the Dead in October.
‘On Behalf of water’Also affected by the spill were people living further downstream.
A group of Navajo artists displayed their work in April at Rotary Park in Durango as the “On Behalf of Water” art exhibit.
“The water is a living being and needs to be respected,” artist Ruthie Edd said in an April 11 article in The Durango Herald. “We’re not above the environment. It needs as much maintenance as much as any person.”
Artist Venaya Yazzie stressed the importance of the waterway on the people who depend on it.
“The river, for desert people, is everything – it’s gold,” she said in the April 11 article. “Mentally. Spiritually. Physically. It covers the whole human spirit of life.”
‘Love Letters to the Animas’As part of the Durango Autumn Arts Festival last fall, the public was encouraged to express their feelings about the Gold King Mine spill in “Love Letters to the Animas.”
Jules Masterjohn, director of the festival, came up with the idea because she knew that art is a way to engage and connect people.
“I hatched the idea shortly after the spill, knowing that so many in our community love the river and were hurting because of the offense to the river and its inhabitants; it seemed so big and overwhelming to many,” she said.
People were invited to add their words or drawings to a 50-foot-long rainbow trout that was drawn on the street at one end of the festival.
Local artists jumped in and volunteered from start to finish– from helping to take the image of the fish from a sketch to actual size and drawing it on the street, to cutting out scales for people to write and draw on, to working with the community members who attended the festival.
“Many people shared their gratitude with volunteers – thanking them for making this opportunity possible,” Masterjohn said. “Others were sad and some angry, but mostly people were happy to be asked to share their feelings and thoughts in a public artistic display.”
Masterjohn estimates that about 150 people – many of them children – wrote and drew their thoughts on the scales, which were stapled together and placed inside the outline of the trout.