Plein air painter Joan Hoffmann demonstrates her work in a painting from Rabbit Ears Pass that she began Tuesday morning. Hoffmann has about 60 pieces on display this month at the Depot Art Center.

Photo by Nicole Inglis

Plein air painter Joan Hoffmann demonstrates her work in a painting from Rabbit Ears Pass that she began Tuesday morning. Hoffmann has about 60 pieces on display this month at the Depot Art Center.

Joan Hoffmann returns to Yampa Valley with iconic, personal paintings

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Artist Joan Hoffman

Plein air landscape artist Joan Hoffmann talks about her work on display at the Depot Art Center in this audio slideshow.

Plein air landscape artist Joan Hoffmann talks about her work on display at the Depot Art Center in this audio slideshow.

If you go

What: “History of American Landscape Painting” with Joan Hoffmann

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Depot Art Center 1001 13th Street

— She may have moved from the Yampa Valley 10 years ago, but Joan Hoffmann’s emphatic brushstrokes have immortalized the iconic images that make this region a place she’ll never truly leave.

Every year, the longtime plein air landscape artist returns to Steamboat to spread the tradition of American landscape painting.

For the rest of July, nearly 60 of her paintings from a 40-year span are displayed at the Depot Art Center, each depicting the pastoral and mountainous views of the valley she called home for three decades.

“It’s about the connection,” Hoffmann said. “It’s about where the water meets the land … how it comes together to make the visual experience.”

That experience is more than just one tree or one bird. It’s the entire palette of colors that nature provides and the way they work together on the canvas to preserve a uniquely American imagery.

This Saturday, Hoffmann will lead a lecture, “The History of American Landscape Painting,” at 7 p.m. at the Depot. Her talk will touch on the significance of landscape painting in American history, particularly in the way it helps preserve and promote iconic images.

It’s a concept she’s not unfamiliar with.

In Hoffman’s current show at the Depot, several of her works illustrate the historic element of local landscapes:

There’s a painting of Pleasant Valley before Stagecoach Reservoir was built, a view down Blacktail Mountain before Lake Catamount was there, and a Hayden landscape imagined sans the power plant.

“When I paint the common — paint something you know — it’s that exchange of energy among artist, viewer, patron … that creates a community of art culture,” she said.

When she returns to Steamboat, Hoffmann also teaches workshops, classes and private painting sessions. On Tuesday morning she and painting student Marion Kahn were up on Rabbit Ears Pass painting reflecting ponds.

“Joan has taught me everything I know about painting,” Kahn said, eyeing her fresh canvas adorned with the purples, browns, yellows and greens of the ominous morning. “I didn’t know what was the right way, and I was so intimidated to learn.”

Kahn has been painting for a year and said plein air offers an unrivaled artistic experience.

“There’s the joy of the outdoors, and you can really capture the energy happening in a location,” she said.

Hoffmann doesn’t paint lines or outline her work. While basking in plein air with her canvas before her, Hoffman takes in the shapes and the colors and captures them with wide, definitive brushstrokes.

“It’s organic,” she said. “I paint what you can’t draw.”

Through connecting with her landscape, Hoffmann also has taken on efforts to preserve it. She is an environmental activist interested in preserving wilderness areas.

But things have changed in 40 years. The lakes were built, the power plant erected, and even a block of condominiums shows up in one of her commissioned works. But what doesn’t change is the symbolic nature of painting landscapes.

“It’s not that you forget,” she said. “It’s just the new landscape.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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