The absence of snow in Southwest Colorado coupled with abnormally mild temperatures may be prohibitive to getting residents in the holiday spirit, but two local artists have done their part sprucing up Durango with holiday cheer.
“Even with non-December-like weather, when you look at this place, especially at night, it looks really awesome,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District.
This year, as in years past, a number of businesses in downtown Durango feature a holiday showcase on their storefront windows, donned with snowmen, Santa Clauses, Christmas trees and snowflakes.
Most of the paintings can be traced to two local artists: Lorraine Taylor and Leah Conrad.
Taylor is, by far, Conrad’s senior in laying claim to Durango’s most prominent holiday painter, having moved to Durango in 1965. She started painting holiday scenes on windows of businesses in 1967 and hasn’t missed a year since.
“It’s fun,” Taylor said. “Having lived here a long time, you get to see people you’ve known for a long time while you’re out painting and get to gab. We’d paint a lot more if we didn’t talk so much.”
Taylor said she first started painting holiday decor on windows while she was living in California, before moving to Durango. But once she arrived in Southwest Colorado, more and more businesses solicited her services.
At the height, Taylor painted the windows of 110 businesses in just one season, mostly along Main Avenue. This year, she painted 35, which can be seen at Maria’s Bookstore, Durango Diner, Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant and Mountain Bike Specialists, to name a few.
Taylor, stubbornly modest about her talent, says she learned how to paint holiday-themed scenes by experience and experimenting, sometimes taking ideas from old Christmas cards and ads in newspapers.
“I am not an artist, and I have no education,” she said. “I just do it. But the little kids are impressed.”
Taylor said that over the years, different artists would come to town and offer to paint businesses that hadn’t already sworn an allegiance with her. But the competition has always been good-natured, and, served as motivation, she said.
“When you see someone else painting, you say, ‘Shoot, I can do better than that.”
Enter Leah Conrad.
Conrad, a Durango native, said she started painting her first windows in downtown Durango during the holidays about two years ago, as a fundraiser for two local kids who were involved in a car wreck.
She missed last year, but was out in full force this year, livening up almost 20 businesses in downtown Durango as of Dec. 5.
This year, she’s donating 20 percent of her proceeds to Project Merry Christmas.
Conrad’s holiday work can be viewed at Steamworks Brewing Co., Durango Dance, Carver’s Brewing Co. and Morgan Stanley, among others.
Conrad said she used to paint windows for a restaurant group while she lived in Denver for a time, evolving to murals and larger projects for the interior of restaurants on the Front Range.
Conrad, too, said she has no formal art training. Instead, she’s a “do-it-yourself” kind of person, always taking an interest in making crafts, and she admits to being an avid doodler.
Conrad moved back to Durango about two years ago to help take care of her mother. With a humble sense of respect for Taylor and her work, Conrad has embraced holiday painting as a tradition of her own.
“The best is when people walk by and say, ‘How cool!’” she said. “How can you have a bad day doing that?”
Taylor, now in her 80s, said she has no intent of slowing down, but admits she can’t paint as many businesses as she did in years past.
She is usually joined now by her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter.
“About three years ago, I thought about quitting,” Taylor said.
“But they won’t let me quit.”