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Paragon Gallery: A staple of Crested Butte arts culture

The Paragon Gallery is one of the longest continuously run art co-ops in Colorado

By Cayla Vidmar

Visitors and locals alike can stroll into the Paragon Gallery in the beautiful Old Town Hall, located on the corner of Elk Ave. and Second Street, and not only find work from more than a dozen local artists, but get to talk with the artists themselves who work on staff.

The Paragon Gallery is a unique artists’ association, whose members own and operate the business, and donate proceeds to the community and local non-profits. It also holds the ranks as one of the oldest continuously run artists’ co-operatives in Colorado.

“There are not many galleries where you get to go in and meet the artists, and where there’s always a member behind the desk you can talk to,” says director Patrick Duke, an oil painter who attended Western State Colorado University for art.

The Paragon Gallery, which opened in 1979, started as a local artists’ co-op and morphed into a not-for-profit association that is member-owned and operated.

Walking off Elk into the gallery, visitors are greeted with floor to ceiling art: beautiful renditions of iconic Crested Butte scenes in oil, acrylic, photographs, ink and graphite, along with non–Crested Butte-related art, including jewelry, ceramics, and wood pieces. You can find something that echoes of a dear Crested Butte memory, or a one of kind treasure.

All the proceeds beyond the “shoe-string operating budget” and artists’ profits go towards the Crested Butte Community School (CBCS) art program, the People’s Fair and local non-profits, says member Jim Garrison, a photographer who has been a gallery member since 1996.

“In the past some of our artists would go over to the Community School and teach classes, until Ben McGloughlin [CBCS art teacher] got there, and he’s such a great teacher there’s no reason for us to go over there,” laughs Garrison.

The gallery hosts 14 artist members, and rotates through one to two local guest artists every month. For the members, the gallery is not only a great spot to feature their work, but a labor of love. Each member must take a weekly half-day shift working the front desk. Garrison notes that the community they’ve made is what makes the gallery unique, saying, “We work together and help each other out by selling each other’s work.”

The gallery evolved through the years and eventually the members started the People’s Fair in 1989, a non-juried arts festival held over Labor Day weekend (this year’s festival is September 1-2). Garrison says one of the main reasons the People’s Fair started is that many local Crested Butte artists were unable to get into the Crested Butte Arts Festival, which is a juried festival that brings in artists nationwide. “We want to allow beginning artists and artists that aren’t full-time to have an arts festival of their own,” says Garrison.

Garrison recalls that the People’s Fair started out as a sort of “hippie flea market,” with artists mixing in with people selling garage-sale items. He notes that Jeff Dautrich, another member of the gallery, “turned the People’s Fair into a real arts festival. It’s gone from a flea market to a decent arts show.”

Meg Carver, People’s Fair director and oil and acrylic painter, says “Our fair is unique as it is all-local Colorado artists and craftsman, and most vendors sell their goods at a low price point so it is truly a fair for the people.” Carver says there will be arts, crafts, live music, food and a dog show sponsored by Oh Be Dogful.

The Paragon Gallery represents the deep artists community in the valley, and the People’s Fair echoes the jubilant attitude Crested Butte has towards artists, creators and makers who have flocked here for years. To get a broad taste of what the Crested Butte valley has to offer artistically, make sure to swing into the Paragon Gallery. Art ranges from painting, drawings, jewelry, photography, pottery, ceramics, and sculpture and is not to be missed for a unique Crested Butte art experience.

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