by Jules Masterjohn
The creative process is alive and kicking at Shy Rabbit in Pagosa Springs. This vitality is evident in the gallery’s current exhibit, “Hold It!” featuring the work of Chad Haspels, Sarah Hewitt Clarissa Hudson, Mary Ellen Long, Chris Ritchter, and Shan Wells. The forms and materials chosen by each artist to represent the show’s theme of contemporary containers vary widely and give pause to the wonderfully enigmatic nature of the individual creative process. The works contained within the Shy Rabbit’s two galleries remind us of elemental concepts and processes. The works invite contemplation.
In conceiving the exhibit, Denise Coffee, co-owner of Shy Rabbit, stated, “Our intention behind titling the show ‘Hold It!’ was to request that viewers stop and take their time in carefully considering the works on display.” There is also a suggestion that the containers might hold ideas and thoughts. More than a request, the title is a command – and it is an appropriate one, not only for visitors to the exhibit but for Denise and her husband, Michael, as well.
For more than three years, in much the same way that an artist works from inspiration and vision to implementation, the Coffees have been invoking the creative process in their development of the Shy Rabbit. Their original 2,000 square feet of rented warehouse space was recently expanded to 4,000 square feet. Half the new area will be used for teaching ceramic workshops and the other 1,000 square feet is dedicated gallery space for their popular exhibitions. Along with the doubling of space has come a redoubling of the Coffee’s consideration of what they want to offer through their efforts at Shy Rabbit.
After nearly a year of the Shy Rabbit functioning solely as Michael’s ceramic studio, the Coffees officially opened the timid bunny’s doors in the spring of 2004. It was conceived as a contemporary art advocacy venue by initiating the Artist Roundtables, based on the European salon model whereby members of the arts community speak and lead discussions. Shy Rabbit also started offering workshops in specific art techniques and the business of art. And, most notably, the Coffees and their Creative Development Team of Pagosa residents Leanne Goebel, Al Olson and Shaun Martin, have presented some of the most provocative exhibitions of contemporary art in the area.
As with all things dynamic and alive, change comes. Though well attended, no roundtables or workshops are currently slated on this year’s Shy Rabbit schedule. Instead, the Coffees are expanding their physical space and pulling in their vision. They have succeeded in establishing the gallery as a premier contemporary art venue known not only for its support of emerging regional artists but also established, nationally known artists. They are inspired to make the Shy Rabbit a destination for art collectors by continuing to cultivate relationships with artists of the highest caliber.
Quality and professionalism have continually been the cornerstones of the Coffee’s efforts. Over the last few years, the essence of the Shy Rabbit has not changed, though its form continues to evolve. Three years and more than a dozen exhibitions later, the Coffees are turning inward. Their desire to share the Shy Rabbit space has been deeply rooted in their sense of community. Denise offered, “We have created the kind of artistic environment that inspires us. For our souls and creative spirits, we need to live surrounded by likeminded people.”
The Coffees have spent their lives associated with creative people and pursuing artistic expression. In West Los Angeles, where they lived and built art-related businesses before retiring to Pagosa in 2003, Michael lived a dual life as an architect and a professional artist. With her degree in fashion design, Denise built a dancewear company. Wildly successful, the business grew too fast, consuming Denise, and after nine years, she closed the company. Once revitalized, she began marketing Michael’s printmaking and ceramic work. Denise finds great satisfaction in promoting artists’ work that she believes in. “It is really necessary for the whole art-making structure,” she offered.
The Coffees wasted no time getting fully centered in their artistic lives in Colorado. D. Michael (his professional name) had a solo show of his ceramic work, “Place of Mind” at the Lakewood Cultural Center, near Denver, in August of 2004. His work filled the center’s 1,000-square-foot gallery, and in 2005, it was honored with a “Best of Denver” award from Westword Magazine.
Now, after a year of not making any new pieces due to the demands of directing the Shy Rabbit, Michael has began creating again. The Coffees are planning to present a show of Michael’s functional work – handbuilt platters and Asian-inspired tea bowls – in the near future. Denise emphasizes, “We are not being date driven anymore. We are scaling back from so many planned public exhibitions and will use the space more as a showroom for Michael’s work and for teaching workshops.”
It seems unlikely that these vital individuals will be able to hold back from their community offerings for very long. They have thrived on bringing people together around the arts. The Coffee’s latest interest involves exposing young people to contemporary art by hosting tours of their exhibits. The current show, “Hold It!,” presents work that is minimal, emotional, sensual and intellectual – unlike the usual visual faire displayed in the area – which should give the Pagosa Springs high school students quite a bit to contemplate. •