Steamboat Springs Art keeps you young, said Bill van Straaten, art dealer and owner of Riverhouse Editions and van Straaten Gallery in Steamboat Springs.
"You always have to be looking at new things," he said. "People come in and tell me what they like, but usually what they like is what they know."
Riverhouse Editions has been operating behind closed doors since 1988, but on Sunday, the workshop will officially open as a gallery and reveal to the community the giant press and the internationally known prints that have been produced, unannounced, for years within our midst.
On Tuesday, Master Printer Sue Oehme, assistant printer Jason Yeaman and Bill and Jan van Straaten were gathered around a table in the Riverhouse workshop looking down at three unfinished John Lees prints.
They were almost in tears with pride at what they had been able to produce.
"Lees is kind of a recluse and will spend up to five years on a drawing," Oehme said.
The van Straatens showed the unfinished Lees prints at an art fair recently.
"Eighty percent of the people walked by, but the older people stopped," Bill van Straaten said. "They went on and on about it. Some people even wanted to buy the unfinished work.
"Some people may not like the artists we have, but everyone can appreciate the quality of what we do," Bill van Straaten said.
Oehme joined the staff of Riverside Editions in October 1996.
She originally took a job as an assistant printer, but as the van Straatens watched her work, they realized she had what it took to fill be their recently vacated master printer position.
"We've worked with accomplished sculptors and painters who have never made a print in their life," Bill van Straaten said. "Sue has a gift for translating their work into this medium. They see things they have never seen in their own work. They go home after their two-week project energized and with a lot of new ideas.
"Sue is considered one of the finest master printers in the world," he said.
Bill and Jan van Straaten owned a gallery in Chicago but closed it last year as another step in allowing the mountains of Routt County rise up like encompassing arms around them, and opening their local gallery to the public is a final step toward that end.
"It was becoming harder and harder to spend time at the (Chicago gallery)," Bill van Straaten said. "Galleries are a singular business and I've never seen one survive without the owner unless they deal in dead artists. When the owner goes, the gallery goes."
The van Straatens started their move to Colorado in the mid-1980s when they purchased a summer home near Clark.
"Our original idea was that we would set up the printing press in our home," Jan van Straaten said. "And then we had the first artist stay with us and realized it was not going to work."
They searched for another property in the area and found a home right on the Elk River.
"Back in those days, no one wanted it," Jan van Straaten said.
The gray house with the blue tin roof has become a symbol for the Riverside Editions press.
For 15 years, artists have been sitting on the house's wide dock, which connects the house to the river like an old New England boardwalk into the sea. Artists stay for two weeks, sometimes longer, retreating from the heat of the New York summers.
"Those weeks are intense," Bill van Straaten said. "For that time, it's all them. There are no other artists in the world. We treat them like Gods, like royalty."
They wine them and dine them in the evenings, and during the day they work. Hard.
Until recently, all the prints the van Straatens publish were made from etchings on polished copper plates.
The plate is covered with wax and the artist draws the design directly on the wax.
The metal is exposed along the drawn lines and the plate is dropped into acid that eats away the exposed metal.
The plate is then inked.
Some prints use several separate plates with many different inks.
The inked plates are pressed onto paper making the final print.
The process can be completed as many times as the publisher chooses, creating a limited-edition of the piece.
The van Straatens have published thousands of prints over the years, including work by Linda Mieko Allen, Katherine Bowling, Jack Cowin, John Lees and Winston Roeth.
The van Straatens choose which artists to publish carefully.
When they first opened in Clark, the couple did as many as 10 projects a year.
"We are much more selective now," Bill van Straaten said. Now, Riverhouse Editions releases six projects a year, he said.
Initially, it was difficult to attract artists to the Clark home, he said.
"Most of the artists I wanted to work with already had summer homes in Italy or on islands," he said. "So it was hard to get them to come for the first time, but after the first time, they love it."
During the summer, Riverhouse artists will come to complete and sign projects they started last year or start new ones.
Wildlife artist Jack Cowin comes every year.
In the past, Riverhouse produced a 36-edition book of prints by Cowin inspired by Thoreau's "Walden Pond."
The pages alternate between text and engravings of wildlife. One page layered an antique description of how to make flies, which Cowin purchased in Walden, under an engraving of a rainbow trout. The images sink into the heavy paper.
"I love seeing the bite of the plate," Bill van Straaten said. "I used to feel that printmaking was the tail of the dog and, in 1981, I had a few painting shows.
"They were great artists, but I didn't get goose bumps the way I do with prints. I guess you can't fight who you are."