You might call Kit Frost and Annie Blumenschine adventuring artists.
Or perhaps desert painters. The two Mancos women spend many a day traveling to the nearby canyons and rocky valleys that grace the Four Corners – capturing the scenes on canvas.
“Dead Horse Point, Zion National Park, Valley of the Gods, the Chama River,” Frost said, listing some of the sites depicted in their work. “Pretty much we go wherever the muse takes us.”
And their bright swirls of oil-paint landscapes will take over Olio restaurant and art gallery for its next exhibit, with an opening reception Saturday. They have participated in the annual Escalante Canyons Art Festival, but this will be their first official show together.
Both Frost and Blumenschine are somewhat new to oil painting.
Frost is a photographer who taught high school art in New Jersey for 22 years. On vacations, she would visit the Southwest, and she decided this was the region where she wanted to be.
“I loved my job but I didn’t love living in New Jersey anymore,” she said. “Nothing bad about New Jersey, it’s just the sky here, the expansiveness here.”
She moved to Ignacio in 1995, and then got connected to the Durango community after she found work helping to paint and renovate the Smiley building in downtown Durango.
Frost lives in Mancos but has a studio in Durango. She has served as an artist in residence at several National Parks, including Mesa Verde, Crater Lake, Acadia, Glacier, and Capitol Reef. She will soon be heading to Yellowstone National Park as an artist in residence there, focusing on painting, photography, and video work.
Blumenschine had a similar migration to the Southwest. Originally from Ohio, she would work summers at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, before heading back to Ohio for school, and eventually making her way to Park City, Utah.
“My heart was out west, so I came back out west, found a job in a ski resort town,” Blumenschine said. She lived there for about 27 or 28 years, working at the ski resort and as a massage therapist.
But about three or four years ago, she needed a change and wanted to be closer to the desert. She had met Frost while bringing some furniture down to the area, and decided to move to Mancos herself.
“It’s just a nice change for me,” Blumenschine said.
The two have been traveling around the Southwest and painting together ever since.
“I have a camper and Annie has a van,” Frost said. “And we go wherever we want to and just unload the gear, put up a 10-foot by 10-foot if we need shade, and start painting.”
A few of the paintings they are showcasing at Olio are studio works, but most are “en plein air,” or painting outdoors, “in the open air.” None of the paintings is created with brushes, but rather by using palette knives.
“You really just glop on the paint,” Frost said. “And I think the cliffs of the Southwest and the canyon walls of the Southwest really lead to that kind of expression for me.”
Painting outside does come with a few hazards, though, with a diverse array of elements to contend with, from bugs to sand.
Blumenschine said wind and scorching sun pose two of the greatest difficulties of painting “en plein air.” She recalled once painting on a cliff, when a heavy gust brought her work off the easel. She was able to grab it, but it wasn’t tidy.
“It had so much paint on it, and it stuck on my arms,” she said.
And of course dragging paint materials along on a hike is no easy feat – Frost said it’s comparable to the weight of her 30- to 40-pound camera bag. She added that the challenges of painting are much different than those in photography.
As a painter, you can “edge your own sky,” while a photographer is stuck with the sky that shows itself on a given day. But recreating a scene through paint comes with its own set of challenges.
“You have the challenge of mixing the color,” Frost said. “You have the challenge of structure, does this look like I want it to look like? And does it feel like it felt when I was there? It’s quite a challenge to get the values correct.”
The duo’s colorful landscapes will be displayed at Olio beginning Feb. 8. The opening reception is free and will take place at the restaurant and art gallery from 4-6 p.m. Saturday