Art dealer and gallery owner Mary Williams is bringing the 11th annual "Spirit of the American West" traveling art show to the Center for Visual Arts. The show, which features a number of prominent artists, runs from Thursday to Sunday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Art dealer and gallery owner Mary Williams is bringing the 11th annual "Spirit of the American West" traveling art show to the Center for Visual Arts. The show, which features a number of prominent artists, runs from Thursday to Sunday.

Traveling Western art show comes to town

Sale features antique prints and newer paintings

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Mary Williams, front, and Elaine Carter, back, unload a trailer full of art outside the Center for Visual Arts in downtown. Williams, an art dealer and gallery owner, is bringing the 11th annual "Spirit of the American West" traveling Art Show to the Center for Visual Arts.

If you go

What: 11th annual "Spirit of the American West" fine art show and sale

When: Open to the public starting at 11 a.m. Thursday through Sunday

Where: Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts, 56 Ninth St.

Cost: Admission is free; all items are priced for sale

Call: 970-846-5970

Thirteen years ago, fine art vendor Mary Williams wasn't selling much of anything at her Boulder gallery. But she wouldn't let go of her business without a fight.

"I was going to go out of business, so I said to my assistant, 'Go rent us a U-Haul and we're leaving,'" Williams said. "We left, turned out the lights and locked the door for a month."

The pair loaded some of the antique prints, maps and posters and contemporary paintings featured at Mary Williams Fine Arts into the trailer and headed north and west. They found that the collection sold well in towns that were interested in Western culture, and the business stayed afloat.

The operation has been refined through the years to include three to six road shows annually; last year, Williams decided to give Steamboat a try as a new sale location, swapping out longer trips to Montana or Idaho.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, the 11th annual "Spirit of the American West" fine art show and sale opens at the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts. Williams' collection will be on display and available for sale through Sunday, and the gallery will extend its hours through the weekend.

"Spirit of the American West" includes about 100 framed pieces and 500 to 600 unframed pieces in two categories: antique maps, prints and posters; and contemporary paintings, Williams said. The collection - mostly but not exclusively featuring Western artists - will be grouped into those two categories, she said, and will be spread throughout the gallery's main floor. In some towns, Williams rents a ballroom or an empty storefront for her temporary shows, she said.

Center for Visual Arts Gallery Manager Gabrielle Savage said she was impressed by the scope and interest level of "Spirit of the American West" when she helped host the traveling show at the Depot Art Center in 2008.

"It's like a visual explosion," Savage said.

Twenty percent of the proceeds from the weekend sale will go to the Center for Visual Arts, a nonprofit organization that features work by more than 80 local artists. The event is the first benefit for the venue since it opened in March, gallery owner Linda Laughlin said.

Before the end of the year, the Center for Visual Arts will apply for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status; host a creative fundraiser involving its member artists; bring back the free Wednesday lunch workshops it started during the spring mud season; and serve as a dinner location during the Northwest Colorado Rural Philanthropy Days, Laughlin said. Philanthropy Days is a regional event focusing on nonprofit organizations scheduled for Sept. 16 to 18 in Steamboat.

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