West Slope artist’s passion for life comes through in book
In the poem “The Summer Day,” poet Mary Oliver entreats, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” So many of us search for an answer to this question for most of our lives. I, for one, have searched for the answer all of my adult life. Too often, however, I find myself watching videos of goats doing yoga instead, only aware of the time I’ve wasted when 30 minutes have passed and I haven’t put a word on the page, though I have seen a goat climb on someone trying to do the downward dog.
Thankfully, life puts inspiration in our way and wakes up our sense of urgency to live a meaningful life. Last month, Out West books hosted a reading of the book, “Frank Mechau: Artist of Colorado,” by Cile M. Bach. Mechau’s sons, Dorik and Mike Mechau, read from the book and told stories about their father’s remarkable life. Frank Mechau exemplified a person who answered Mary Oliver’s question with vigor, filling his life with meaning and leaving behind a legacy of artwork that chronicles a wilder time in Western Colorado.
Mechau was born as his mother rode a mare who had recently foaled through a blizzard in Kansas, searching for help. He said his love of horses was born at this time too, joking his first milk was mare’s milk. Horses are featured in many of his works, including the well-known fresco, Wild Horses, created at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
He grew up in Glenwood Springs and returned to the Western Slope after traveling to the East Coast, where he met his wife, Paula. After they were married, they moved to Europe so Mechau could study and paint. As a young man, Mechau searched for inspiration in art schools and the works of the masters of Europe. However, as his son Mike said, his “chemical identity” was in Colorado, and eventually Mechau settled in Redstone with his family.
Dorik and Mike chose letters written by Mechau for many of their readings, and for good reason. Their father’s descriptions of his early days, his struggle to find inspiration in the art schools of the East, and, later, his vivid detailing of Colorado’s landscape all showcase a mastery of language that nearly matches his mastery of visual art. This is part of what made the evening so pleasant. In hearing the letters read by his sons, we in the audience found an intimacy with the artist himself. Hearing his sons read their father’s words brought those of us in the audience closer to Mechau, because each reading also came with an additional story of their father.
Mechau’s legacy has been protected in large part due to the efforts of his wife, Paula. After his death, she kept their young family together in Redstone. She collaborated closely with Bach on the contents of the book, which was later updated with the help of Dorik’s wife, Carolyn Servid. The richness of his experience and its influence on his artwork is wonderfully displayed in the narrative and layout of the book. Although he is best known for his portrayals of the American West, he also chronicled the Caribbean region and Panama for the War Department during World War II. His paintings, letters and photographs of this time are included in the book, and it is stunning how this deeply affecting time in his life comes through in his paintings.
Members of Mechau’s family were scattered throughout the audience, and as the reading drew to a close, they also contributed to the discussion, giving a fuller picture of the man and the artist. Mechau’s talents went well beyond his artwork. It was inspiring to learn more about him and his wife from his children and grandchildren, within the cozy setting of Out West Books. Learning about Mechau recharged my determination to have a creative life, however small it might be. I have often found learning about artists such as Mechau intimidating. Their talent is so far beyond anything I could imagine possessing. Mechau’s determination, however, is something I can try to emulate, although I know I will never match it. He devoted his life to his art, and his family, in turn, is fiercely devoted to preserving his story. I’m thankful I attended the reading. It was certainly more fruitful than another goat yoga video.
Copies of “Frank Mechau: Artist of Colorado” can be purchased at Out West Books, 533 Main St., or Grand Valley Books, 350 Main St.