Transported by Light

By: Lisa Hoffman, curator of education on December 23rd, 2020

It was the light and atmosphere. I knew it. I’d experienced it. I missed it.

Know me for longer than two minutes and you’ll quickly learn that I once lived along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. The three years I spent in Colorado were some of the best of my life. Many Midwesterners flocked there at the time. My theory on the mass transplantation was that Wisconsinites appreciate the four seasons but prefer Colorado’s milder version of each.

Wisconsin, however, hosts spring and fall better than most. Dramatic winters enhance those “bookend” seasons. But oh, a Wisconsin winter . . . I dread it each and every year. It’s not the interminable piles and piles of snow, treacherous icy roads and walks, or life-threatening temperatures that get to me each year. No; it’s the lack of sunshine. Winter is dreary and dark and, ironically, a sunny mid-January day portends frigid cold temperatures without the insulating bank of clouds.

William Alther, Cherry Creek Society, 2020, oil on Belgian linen

At the advent of winter, artwork can provide virtual rays of sunshine. Although the Museum is temporarily closed as a precaution amid the prevalence of Covid-19, the Birds in Art 2020 catalogue includes images of each artwork. Perusing the images, I stopped on Bill Alther’s oil painting of Canada geese, common goldeneyes, and a hooded merganser nestled on a riverbank in winter. The light depicted in the painting immediately transported me back three decades and to Colorado.

Art is often a touchpoint for reflection. And, reflection can be therapeutic and promote physiological responses. A smile crosses my face – under my mask – as I recall what it felt like to be bathed in that light and warmth in the middle of winter. Surprisingly, Denver ranks near the top among U.S. cities with the most days of sunshine – a sunshine that can melt a December snowbank in a few hours. I feel it acutely when, late each Wisconsin spring, the angle and relative proximity of the sun finally produces warmth on your face.

Keenly aware of what a joy it is to work near artwork, I recently walked downstairs and into the Birds in Art galleries to revel in Alther’s painting depicting a winter day in Denver. While gazing, I considered my time in Colorado. I could almost taste and smell the saag paneer and chai served at my favorite Denver restaurant. I recalled the brilliant songwriting and musicianship of a Lyle Lovett performance experienced at Red Rocks natural amphitheater.

Thank you, Bill, for the light.

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