Ask a Local
I wander the snowy streets of Salida on a Sunday afternoon, looking for a willing soul to interview for my column. I am one of two people walking the slippery sidewalks. Unless you are working a Sunday shift at one of the local establishments, you are either hitting the slopes and celebrating Ullr’s fresh offerings at Monarch Mountain, or you are at home in your pajamas, chilling out and staying warm. I feel my journalistic itch tickling my bones today, and neither the wet weather nor the silent streets will get me down. There was a reason I came out today with pen and paper in hand, and I know if I just go where the energy flows, I will find my local. I embrace the unique peacefulness in the gentle snowfall.
In the midst of the quiet, dark storefronts, I notice myself gravitating toward warm hues of orange, red and gray, and find my arm pulling a glass door open.
An artist is painting while listening to some groovy blues-rock riffs through Bluetooth speakers synced to a cell phone. This is a rare snow day this year, so it feels extra cozy to be in a warm studio, surrounded by passionate brushstrokes and majestic animals from the wild. I ask, “Are you Katie Maher?” She smiles kindly, and I know I have found my local.
After some brief introductions, and an invitation by Maher to hang out as long as I like, I sit on a comfy bench and watch as she paints a red-breasted bird.
Jessie Miller: What is it about Salida that inspires you to create?
Katie Maher: “Ten years ago I moved here and didn’t know how to paint; then I learned how. I went to school for graphic design, then moved to Colorado and learned that tattooing was so fun and painting was so fun. The Salida artists community showed me that being an artist can be a profession, showed me it’s possible, and all bets are on.
I didn’t even know how to paint; and Carl Ortman, Josh Been and some local artists showed me how and that it’s possible to be an artist as a profession. At school for graphic design, I just took classes to complete the credits and fulfill the assignments. After being shown in Colorado how to paint and market myself, I opened my own tattoo studio; it seemed like the place to start and everything fell into place. About a year and a half ago I opened this painting studio. I paint in oil. I started with a few paintings on the walls and a big stack of paintings on boards. I sold the ones on wood for $5 and had a few paintings on canvas for a higher value. Now I make a living off being a painter. My customers are about 50/50 locals/tourists. I offer free shipping through my studio and website. My customers can pick out a piece of my artwork on their vacation, then I take the work and extra money out of it. I ship for free so that when they arrive home, they have my painting waiting for them. It’s easy and customer friendly. Good customer service is important to me; I respect my clients.”
We as humans have the uncanny ability to be our own worst enemy, but Maher is a friend to herself; she follows her soul’s path and paints. She loves her life, loves painting and loves her freedom. Maher says it is liberating to work for yourself and live an awesome life. Maher says she also loves a new easel that she bought from Been. It is a travel easel that folds into itself and also fits in her backpack. She can hike around and paint on-site anywhere she goes; she just hangs her backpack from the bottom of the easel to stabilize the structure. “It’s such an easy setup and I’m ready to paint anywhere,” Maher said.
Maher has learned to use the best art supplies she can find. This is very important to her practice and the success of her pieces. At first, she was encouraged by her painting mentors to use huge tubes of cheap paint so she could just dive right in and not worry about wasting supplies or second-guessing herself. She took these massive bottles and painted on wood boards, experimenting until she found her style, voice and confidence. Now she uses premium supplies, and paints with oil on canvas. She learned from her mentors about the best paints and best colors to use, such as the orange she is using to highlight the bird she is working on this afternoon from a reference photo. Maher is a humble and genuine artist, whose passion is painting. She followed her heart to Salida and is a successful artist and business owner.
When I leave Maher’s studio, a local passer-by exclaims, “Isn’t she wonderful? I just love talking with Katie. I stop by every once in a while to talk with her and hear her thoughts on art and life. She’s such a nice person.” This admirer says she was initially drawn to Maher’s painting of a horse, and even though she is not necessarily a horse person or horse enthusiast, she loved the beauty and spirit of the horse captured in the paint. This local intends on purchasing a dog portrait from Maher of her aging female dog companion. There is a dog portrait currently displayed in Maher’s gallery window, and the woman, stopping to admire the piece, exclaims, “Katie just captures the soul of the dog, its essence and character — it’s in the eyes. Katie’s a special artist.”
Eyes are considered to be windows to the soul and a reflection of our true intentions. Eyes are what directly connect us to other humans, but also the means by which we engage in non-verbal communication with creatures of all species. We feel a sense of compassion and acknowledgment when we lock eyes with another living being. There is a certain magical magnetism caught within a gaze. Maher is a master of harnessing this delicate dance of energy within the eyes that makes her animal portraits so captivating and powerful. We as viewers experience the emotions of the animals, enhanced by Maher’s palette choice and brushwork, and gain the ability to empathize with her subjects on a deeper level.
Maher believes in the importance of community and the power of art to better our lives. On Maher’s website www.katiemaherfineart.com under the headline “Why?” she writes, “Because we all love beautiful things, the ability to create them with our hands, heads and hearts is a gift. Sharing the product of our efforts connects us and broadens our ability to perceive beauty.” Maher’s huge heart and creative aptitude make her a true Salida artist.
JM: “What makes Salida a unique artist community?”
KM: “There’s not this competition between artists that exists in other places. I thought it would be a competitive environment, but it’s not. Salida artists are welcoming and like to support each other and to help each other grow and succeed. I feel supported, heard and respected. Without this community spirit, I would not be where I am today.”