The view from here

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In case you forget what Elkins Meadow looked like before the bulldozers, there is a painting of it, oil on linen, by Phil Wright at the Depot Art Center. Within his frame, the aspen trees sing in their bright yellow autumn robes.

And just in case you have forgotten what Pleasant Valley looked like before Catamount, there are reminders painted by Susan Gill Jackson.

"We're capturing a bit of history here," Jackson said, "because it does change."

In a valley slowly being swallowed by its population, one role of plein air painters, who bring their canvases and brushes into the outdoors to record what they see, is to record and appreciate what may not be here tomorrow.

Their paintings of the Yampa River, hilly ranches and aspen groves are hanging at the Depot, telling the story of "The View from Here."

"This is a group of local artists, and we were trying to convey our view of the area," Jim McBrayer said.

Every Friday since 1998, the Steamboat Artists Group meets at 9 a.m. at the Depot to paint outdoors in the summer and to paint models and still-life in the winter. The sessions are open to anyone who has a paintbrush.

McBrayer and Jackson have been members of the group, on and off, since the beginning.

"We help each other with informal critiques," McBrayer said. "People will give me color suggestions or help me with the transition from foreground to background."

He recites the advice he's been given like a mantra: "As things recede, they become bluer and grayer."

They go out to paint in the mornings to capture the long shadows and the quality of light that disappears as the sun rises into the afternoon.

McBrayer entered three pieces in this month's show. "Aspen Grove" is a meditation on five trees that cross his canvas as five straight lines. It was morning, and as he painted, the light came from behind the trees and wrapped itself around the side of them, a light that he took extra care to capture.

"Once you start painting outside, you look at the world differently," Jackson said. "You see colors that you didn't notice before. You become intimate with the places you paint."

McBrayer said the place comes alive as he paints.

"The more I sit, the more I see," he said. "At its best, it's meditation. It's a mindless moment."

Sharing the walls with McBrayer and Jackson are 12 other artists from the Steamboat Artists Group. There is a painting by Annie Meyer titled "The Yampa." The eye travels from the front of the painting -- from an animal's perspective -- as it looks through bright orange cattails and river grass.

Her work is a stark contrast to "The Ranch," by Virginia Quadri-Campbell. Quadri-Campbell paints with fast, thick, Monet-like brush strokes that cover the canvas like leaves of paint.

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