Those driving along Highway 82 past Catherine Store toward Glenwood Springs would be forgiven if the words “cultural mecca” did not dominate their thought processes. You’ve got your gravel pit. You’ve got your plant nursery. You’ve got a big pile of industrial-looking equipment. You’ve got beaucoup equines, a golf course, a nice view of Mount Sopris and, back in the woods, you’ve got your world-class art gallery.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Near mile marker 13, there’s a turnoff to the Powers Art Center, which is a memorial to the life of John G. Powers and showcases one of the largest collections of works on paper by Jasper Johns — more than 300 individual pieces. Johns is considered one of the most influential contemporary artists of the mid-20th century.
According to the Powers Art Center website, Powers and his wife, Kimiko Powers, collected works from a broad array of contemporary artists and were also open to sharing their love of art and appreciation for the power of contemporary art with the public.
“One such artist that they particularly admired was Jasper Johns,” the website says. “Therefore Powers Art Center showcases Jasper Johns’ limited-edition works on paper. Jasper’s work includes images and objects from popular culture and classical iconography that is known the world over.”
“Contemporary art makes people talk and have full conversations about the world around them,” Powers said when discussing the power of contemporary art and why he began his collection in the early 1960s.
In honor of his passion and dedication to Johns’ creations and the power of art, the Powers Art Center was born. The center, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary on June 2, has focused on educating young and old students alike with a desire to learn about contemporary art through the lens of Johns’ pieces.
As for what “limited-edition works on paper” might be …
According to Melissa English, who has been the Powers Art Center’s director since it opened, such works are “multiples, but limited in number.”
“They can be lithographs, intaglios or screen prints,” English says. “But there are a limited number that were produced.”
In other words, a piece might be number 14 out of 20.
English refuses to even guess at the value of the Powers collection, but it’s huge, even by the Roaring Fork Valley’s lofty standards.
English says that, of the 300-plus pieces by Johns, about 100 will be on display at any given time.
Exhibitions are rotated on a regular basis, English says.
Johns, who was profiled by the New York Times Magazine in February, was born in Atlanta and grew up in South Carolina. After attending South Carolina University from 1947-48, Johns, now 89 years old and living in Connecticut, moved to New York City, where he entered the Parsons School of Design. He served in the Army during the Korean War, after which he returned to New York.
His first solo exhibition was in 1958 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, where he exhibited the paintings, “Target,” “Numbers” and “Flag,” the latter of which is arguably Johns’ best-known painting, and one that has provided a constant theme in his subsequent work.
Fortuitously, among those in Castelli’s client circle at that time were Powers and his wife Kimiko.
In 1960, Johns produced his first lithograph prints. Both his prints and his paintings were often done with repetitions of familiar images, such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers.
Powers, who passed away in 1999, came to art collecting via an unconventional route. He had a very successful career in New York’s publishing industry — serving in a variety of upper-level positions with Prentice-Hall — but opted to punt that part of his life in his late 40s, at which time he put his energies into collecting. His focus went in two diametrically opposed directions: 5th-to-19th-century Japanese art and contemporary American art. It was through New York’s pop art scene that be eventually established a long-term and intimate relationship with Johns.
According to English, Powers had one paramount belief in collecting: That one should approach art purely — for the sake of beauty and intellectual appeal and not for the sale or future investment returns.
Powers and his wife Kimiko, who remains very involved with the Powers Art Center, came to the Roaring Fork Valley because of involvement with the Aspen Institute. John and Kimiko founded the Institute’s Asian Seminars and Aspen Japan Seminar in 1965. John Powers served on the board of trustees for the Aspen Center of Contemporary Art and was chairman of the Mid-Valley Land Company.
He eventually purchased 450 acres right there at mile marker 13 on Highway 82 and, when it came time to open an art center bearing his name, that property seemed like the logical choice, despite its physical remove from Aspen.
The 15,000-square-foot, two-story building, which looks like it could be the setting for a futuristic movie, like maybe “Gattaca,” was designed by renowned architect Hiroshi Nanamori, whose extensive portfolio includes everything from research facilities to resort hotels to houses and condominiums, mostly in the Far East.
The building, built primarily from red Colorado sandstone, sets high standards for environmental friendliness and includes an atrium and an outside reflecting pool.
Though the Powers Art Center has at its core Jasper Johns, it also displays works from other artists.
Currently on display is a special exhibition of Andy Warhol’s works on paper from 1966 to 1983, as well as some of Warhol’s mixed-media works. (Yes, there are prints from Warhol’s famous “Campbell’s Soup Cans” series.)
In June, as part of the Art Center’s fifth-anniversary celebration, English, who rationally contends that she has the best job in the world, will hang an exhibit of the works of the late Roy Lichtenstein, who ran in Warhol’s chic pop-art circles in New York City in the 1960s.
The Powers Art Center is open to the public free of charge Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. While visitors are more than welcome to bring their sketch pads, photography and videography are strictly prohibited.
For more information, call (970) 963-4445 or go to powersartcenter.org.