Plein-air painter documents loss of open land

Osborne merges politics and art

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Politics and art merge into a common landscape for plein-air painter Erika Osborne.

"I'm an activist and a believer in open spaces," Osborne said. "My work is definitely about the changing landscape and our cultural heritage."

Osborne said she tries to draw people's attention to a cultural connection with the land through her paintings. The Utah native, who is coming to Steamboat Springs to teach a plein-air painting workshop, will create a new painting while she's visiting one of the Yampa Valley's historic ranches. It will be displayed at Centennial Hall and eventually will be auctioned to support ranchland protection projects in the Yampa Valley.

Osborne, who spends about six months a year outside painting Western landscapes, said she is most concerned about seeing open spaces disappear and the loss of the rural way of life.

Many of Osborne's paintings deal with issues involving forest management, road building, growth and development. But she said she also uses her art to highlight positive aspects of natural landscapes and to help people feel a connection to the land.

"It's not just another pretty painting. She has some real concern about the land -- and that's how she paints," artist Pat Walsh said. Walsh and Susan Schiesser are bringing Osborne to Steamboat as part of their ArtLink Steamboat program, in collaboration with Southwest Art Magazine, for a year-long series of events called "21 Rising Stars: Visions of the American West in the 21st Century."

Proceeds raised from the silent auction of Osborne's local ranchland painting will go toward a land conservation project or the restoration of a historic agricultural landmark in the Yampa Valley, most likely for a project sponsored by the city of Steamboat Springs, event organizers said.

"Erika's work is widely respected and demands a good price," Schiesser said. "This is a successful project that incorporates art, government and historic preservation. What more can you ask for? This is the kind of project that makes a difference."

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