Steamboat Springs A visual slap in the face awaits after stepping into the Douglas Kenyon Collection art gallery.
There sits a large picture titled “Mississippi Paddleboats” from sometime in the 1870s. It’s tough to look at anything else after your visual senses have been overtaken with the dazzling piece. The image is magnificent, depicting two paddleboats at a dock with vivid imagery of soldiers and workers carrying boxes onto the ships while bags of grain and bales of hay await their turns.
It’s like stepping onto the dock and into the image.
“The images I choose are wide ranging,” Kenyon said. “The one criteria is the images have to have a wow factor. They capture you. If it doesn’t have that, it doesn’t make the grade.”
For Kenyon, the new venture has become an invigorating experience. He’s long been a master of reproducing iconic Western images, but in the past year, through advances in technology and innovation, Kenyon has furthered his trade.
“It’s finally starting to take off,” Kenyon said.
Kenyon was able to photograph the original positives with a studio camera and produce a negative, which he enlarged.
Through a newer process, the work has become less time consuming.
Kenyon now takes the original prints, scans them, uses Photoshop on the digital image to fix and repair flaws and then produces a print.
The process brings the once-small images to life, and from them spring things previously unseen.
It’s the bead pattern in a satchel, the feathers in a headdress or the sight of a worker sweeping off the deck in the distance of the “Mississippi Paddleboats.”
Once the image is done, it’s scanned and adjusted again, making it ready for sale.
“The technology behind it wasn’t available five years ago,” he said.
Although Kenyon has a gallery in town, most of his business is from wholesale to galleries, hotels and restaurants across the U.S. and Canada.
Kenyon long has been part of the art scene, first as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1960 and eventually becoming the chief conservator of prints and drawings at the school in 1967.
He opened Douglas Kenyon Inc. in 1969, growing it to international fame. He bought the Two Rivers Ranch in 1986 and made Steamboat his permanent home in 1991.
He opened the Two Rivers Gallery in Steamboat in 1994 and sold his space in 2010 in order to travel more.
Growing up in rural Illinois and spending time as a ranger in Yellowstone at a young age fostered a keen fascination with the West.
Kenyon's work on early prints included John Audubon. Eventually, he came across Laton Huffman images and was drawn in by the authenticity of the Western experience.
Huffman left his native Iowa at age 24 and traveled west, first through the Dakotas and eventually into Montana. He arrived in time to witness and photograph vanishing lifestyles. He lived the life of a rancher, big-game hunter and guide, all the while capturing life in the rural West.
In 1970, Kenyon traveled to Miles City, Mont., to look at the Huffman estate and hopefully find some originals. After looking everywhere in the estate, Kenyon returned to Chicago, where there was one more box to look at.
“I opened it up, and there were 600-plus vintage prints on very fragile paper,” Kenyon said. “It hadn’t been opened in years and years. I got weak in the knees. I hit the jackpot. I knew the importance of Huffman. I knew the importance of these photographs.”
Since then, Kenyon has been reproducing the Huffman images. Often times, Huffman would hand color his photos, something Kenyon has done even further to bring out the depth and preciseness of each image.
“We don’t hand color anything that hasn’t historically been colored,” Kenyon said. “I want to be purist in that way.”
With his newest advancements in technology — including finding a way to produce Edward Curtis gold tone prints via a lamination process — Kenyon is back in the game.
Despite a recent hip replacement, he is moving around, greeting visitors in his gallery and still finding something that keeps the artistic flame burning inside him.
“I never imagined starting another business at age 70,” Kenyon said. “But I did because all the images we produced were so precise. Like I said. It has to wow. It has to jump at you.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@ExploreSteamboat.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham
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