Collaboration at its finest

‘FRESH’ exhibit pairs Boulder County artists and farmers

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Angela K. Evans, Diane Martonis

Farming is an art form unto itself, but not necessarily one that can be put on display in galleries. That is until now. Firehouse Art Center and Arts Longmont have teamed up in their latest exhibit FRESH: Art Farm, which explores the art of farming through the eyes of local artists.

“Farming is really of the heart. And of course what artists do is of the heart and quite honestly what our organizations do is of the heart. It’s a natural fit,” says Mary Chapin Durling, deputy director of the Firehouse Art Center.

The exhibit is a continuation of a much smaller exhibit Firehouse Arts Center curated last summer in collaboration with Mark Guttridge of Ollin Farms in Longmont and this year’s exhibit showcases 14 farms around Boulder County.

“In some ways people that are in local agriculture don’t realize all the stuff going on in local arts or vice versa. There might be people who support local art but don’t realize there is this thriving local food scene,” Guttridge says. “So it makes a lot of sense to join forces and highlight each other and celebrate what makes Longmont so great.”

The exhibit isn’t simply farm-themed art. Rather it uses art as a vehicle to showcase the essence of each farm and reconnect viewers to the land, and the food that comes from it, in a culture that often forgets this process. It reminds us, “Not only does food come from a farm, but these are the people behind it and this is what they put into it,” says Joanna Kirves, executive director of Arts Longmont.

Housed in two locations in downtown Longmont, Muse Gallery and Firehouse Art Center, FRESH has 100 pieces of original work created by 40 artists, including word artists (songwriters, poets and writers) in addition to visual artists using 2-D and 3-D artforms.

“I really love the way the exhibition captures the essence of the farm — the different farms there are and the different people involved,” Guttridge says. “The artists really did a great job.”

Guttridge, who is the president of Boulder County Farmers’ Markets, is no stranger to farmlife. He was raised on a small hobby farm in Longmont and moved his family back to Boulder County 10 years ago. Starting with a garden for his kids, he quickly realized growing his own food was “much tastier” and healthier than store bought produce. “It became a passion about not just growing the food for my family, but I really wanted to grow it and provide for the whole community,” he says.

And this is a passion artists can relate to — one that requires dedication and sacrifice. “I think both local artists and local farmers struggle to find a way to make a living. But at the same time it’s both a labor of love and a labor of passion,” Guttridge concludes.

As part of the Ollin Farms exhibit, Longmont local husband and wife songwriting duo, The Prairie Scholars, wrote an instrumental piece along with work by photographer/filmmaker Jason Innes and painter Jason Emery.

“Ollin is an Aztec word that means constant change,” says Jessica Eppler of The Prairie Scholars. “So when we wrote the tune we wanted to reflect that. We take one melody through a series of different keys and it modulates so we come back around like the seasons do, and we end just a half step off where we began.”

Raised in West Texas, the Epplers aren’t strangers to the culture of farming. Still, they were struck by the simplicity and dedication of the family at Ollin Farms. “It really is a family-run farm just like any classic Americana you’d think of … and it’s right here in Longmont,” Jessica’s husband Andy says.

“It was beautiful when we walked through to see people in the rows actually on the ground inspecting the plants and doing it by hand. The time that they take with each plant, to me, was really impressive,” Jessica adds.

It is that connection to the agricultural history of Longmont, which society is beginning to embrace once again, that really draws viewers into the exhibit, says Durling. “Sometimes you have exhibitions and people walk in and say, ‘Thank you, that was nice,’” she concludes. “But people have an auditory response to this. They are just engaged with it.”

The Firehouse Arts Center is hosting a variety of events around FRESH, including a short slide series presentation (Pecha Kucha) featuring both artists and farmers on Aug. 20 and a poetry night on Aug. 28. Both organizations are hosting a sold-out fundraiser on Aug. 22 with food from participating farms, as well as live entertainment by the artists and auctions of the artwork.

ON THE BILL: FRESH Art Farm Exhibition. Firehouse Art Center, 667 Fourth Ave., Longmont, 303-651-2787. Muse Gallery, 356 Main St., Longmont. 303-678-7869. Through Aug. 29.