Steamboat Living: Artist profile: Jace Romick’s Rocky Mountain lifestyle
October 13, 2016
When Jace Romick was a 10-year-old growing up in Steamboat Springs, he used his parents' Kodak Instamatic to capture his heroes Jean Claude Killy and Billy Kidd during their World Pro ski races in Steamboat. When Romick joined the U.S. Ski Team himself, his camera went with him to travel the globe.
After retiring from the ski team, Romick embarked on a 30-year career in fine furniture carpentry, retail and interior design.
"When I retired from the ski team, I had to face reality," Romick says. "I'd grown up doing construction, building corrals on the ranch, so thought I'd pursue furniture." Mentored by a local cabinet maker, he knew he wanted to give it the commitment he gave racing. "I didn't want to make anything that was just average," Romick says.
It wasn't; the first log bed he built sold immediately.
Eventually, during the time when he co-owned Romick's Home Collection and Into the West, his photography skills blossomed. Wanting to go beyond photographing his furniture in a typical bedroom setting, he'd pack it up to Rabbit Ears Pass and shoot it with a backdrop of the Yampa Valley. His ads were exhibited in the Chief Theater lobby.
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Three decades later, just a few steps away from those original display cases, is Romick's new photography gallery, featuring large format prints of mountain and ranch landscapes, horses, rodeo action, vintage ski gear and old cars.
Romick calls his theme "Rocky Mountain lifestyle." The landscapes encompass a wide, striking view of the land; and the object portraits are focused so closely as to seem almost abstract, often causing viewers to pause and wonder what it is they're looking at. An old airplane part? A dentist chair? It's a vintage ski boot and binding!
With his ski racing and coaching background, Romick is also a collector of vintage skis — he estimates his current count at a hundred pairs — some of which pose in his photographs or as decorations throughout the gallery.
Rodeo also plays into his work. Romick grew up with the sport and still competes, and he rides his horses far outside the arena to capture scenes of landscapes and wildlife. Some of his rodeo shots are simultaneously beautiful and heart-stopping: the photograph of the rider and bull crashing to the arena floor through a shower of dust filled with light. Some are quieter, but just as beautiful: the cowboy, shown only from shoulders to boots, embracing his horse.
Many of the photographs are metallic prints with an acrylic overlay, called museum mount, adding depth and detail to his images: the color of a cloud edge, that touch of light in a mare's mane, the glint in a cowboy's sunglasses.
His photographs are encased in a handcrafted wooden frame, corners often secured with large, metal bolts, each subtly different — some are made of classic, reclaimed wood, and some have glass separating wood from photograph, evoking a more modern feel. The frames are built to emphasize each photograph's best part. In one photograph — the front of a classic car he found in a junkyard — a frame layer matches the shade and gradients of the car's rust spots. Another reflects the car's silvery metallic trim.
Romick is full of stories about chasing sunlight down a barely traveled dirt path for miles, doubling the time his road trips take; about being so mesmerized by his subject in Yellowstone National Park — a buffalo — that had his luck been less, that day could have ended much differently; about finding himself so eager to get a sunset shot, he knelt onto a cactus.
"Photography gives me more of a creative side and more enjoyment," Romick says. He takes pleasure in the entire process: the adventures and set-up, the editing, the crafting of the frames and the gallery showing and sales.
"I love seeing people's expression when they come into the gallery," Romick says. "They'll stand there and look at a photo for 10 minutes, at times. People appreciate furniture, too, but it's not quite the same."
While the majority of gallery pieces are Romick's, several are clearly different. They feature reservation scenes of Native Americans and were taken more than a hundred years ago. Romick describes pictoralist Roland W. Reed as one of the greatest Native American photographers ever, whose work has been largely forgotten. When Romick tracked down Reed's original photos for his gallery, he found them stored in a basement.
"I'm trying to recreate them and bring his photography to life again," Romick says. He's tinkering with the lost art of printing old photographs with the original sepia tones and feel and building personalized frames for each.
"I don't want to take away from his photos but give them more of a mountain feel," Romick says.
Photo caption: Living and shooting the Rocky Mountain lifestyle: local photographer and wooden frame builder Jace Romick inside his new art gallery at the Chief Theater downtown. Photo by John F. Russell.