Couple shares passion for art, music, freedom
After escaping Poland while it was under communist rule and then leaving Florida because of the recession, artists Kristof and Noemi Kosmowski made their way about three years ago to Glenwood Springs.
It turns out that they feel right at home. And like a new homeowner grabbing paint and brush to spruce up the place, they’ve done the same around town. They have painted animal scenes on utility boxes and other unorthodox public canvases for free, to jazz up the look of the town.
“I think they did a good job. The city, it looks more colorful now,” said Joanna Lowisz, who also is from Poland and a recent transplant to the Glenwood Springs area, and has become friends with the Kosmowskis.
The Kosmowskis, both 55, say the artwork, involving many donated hours, is just their way of giving back to the town.
“Glenwood adopted us, actually. We feel like we’ve been here 10 years - 20 years,” Noemi said.
The Kosmowskis’ journey to western Colorado, and through life, has been a long and sometimes difficult one. But along the way, they’ve always had their love of each other, and of art and music and the freedom offered by the United States. These passions seem to help them not just endure life’s challenges, but thrive, bringing a sense of joy to each moment.
“We actually never do anything else - we just paint and play the music. ... You cannot live without music,” Noemi said.
Their rental home in Glenwood Springs testifies to that, crowded as it is with their paintings and a diversity of musical instruments that Kristof can play. Noemi plays some as well, but her primary instrument is her voice, which she used starting at age 14 in Poland to make a career for a time as a singer, including doing back-up work for popular performers there.
The two used to perform in bands in Florida, and still enjoy playing together in their home and for occasional special events. Asked to display their talents during an interview, they grabbed their guitars and launched into John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” Noemi sang, echoing Lennon’s aspirations for a better world. During their younger years in Poland, the Kosmowskis shared and acted on a dream of leaving what had been an oppressive country and living in the United States, and they say they love being here.
Noemi said there are things she misses about Poland, such as the people, the food, the history — she can trace her family back 1,200 years.
“But life is not about the history. We’re building our life every moment,” she said.
The Kosmowskis had built up a name for themselves as artists in Poland. Kristof designed Polish postal stamps and the two sold their works to prominent European families.
But they chafed under communist rule. Noemi’s father, Zdzislaw Lachur, an accomplished artist, had opened Poland’s first animation studio, only to have the government take it over. Noemi said it was hard for people living in Poland to build up a business from scratch and escape poverty, and she decided she didn’t want to struggle like so many others who ended up having their businesses taken from them.
Kristof’s father was in the movie business, and his mother had been a standout in speedskating and gymnastics in Poland. Kristof was on the national sailing team, and while Noemi grew up as an artist, he didn’t become one until his early 20s.
The two met at a disco. “He’s not a dancer,” Noemi observed teasingly. They’ve now been married 30 years, and their children have inherited some of the multigenerational family talents. Their son, Maksimilian, 27, has been working as a computer animator and is now joining the Navy. Their daughter, Eva, 28, is an actress, dancer and singer who was on a national “Cats” tour and is in the new television series, “Pan Am.”
Their children were still little when Kristof and Noemi decided to make their break from Poland. Their plan required them to leave separately for Germany. Kristof forged paperwork, but at the border he managed to avoid inspection of it by diverting the attention of authorities to an American who’d confided to Kristof that some of his own documents had been stolen.
Kristof knew the American had the paperwork needed to cross, and once they both made it into Germany he apologized for taking advantage of the man. After the American learned of his circumstances, Kristof then had to turn down the American’s offer to help him further.
While waiting in Poland, Noemi worried that Kristof might have been caught by Polish authorities and sentenced to prison for years, or that something even worse may have happened.
“Who knows, he could have even been dead. That was the times then,” she said.
Fortunately, she received his call to tell her he’d made it to Germany safely. That cleared the way for her to fly there with her children under the pretense that they were tourists. Her biggest challenge was keeping the children from revealing their intended final destination to Polish authorities as they left.
“They were so little and blabbing, ‘We are going to America,’ and you couldn’t say this at that time,” Noemi said.
It took them another three years to get the clearance to leave Germany for the United States. They eventually ended up in Florida, where they set about reviving their careers in art. Tennis great Andy Roddick had Kristof’s portraits of him exhibited at Roddick’s foundation in Florida and the U.S. Tennis Association offices in New York. Kristof’s work also can be found in national collections in several countries.
Kristof and Noemi do everything from commissioned paintings to interior design work to gallery shows. They achieved a comfortable life for themselves in Florida, only to have everything come crashing down when the housing crisis hit.
Kristof left Florida to take on some work here in late 2008, with Noemi following within the next half year. That’s just about when the recession hit full-force here, and they’ve been slowly re-establishing their careers over time.
Meanwhile, they’ve enjoyed depicting everything from St. Bernard dogs to waterfowl to foxes to grizzly bears on whatever surface the city makes available to them around town.
Glenwood Springs parks and cemeteries superintendent Al Laurette said the city began seeking artists to paint utility boxes and other surface based on a practical need.
“We needed to paint some things so we thought, why not take things a step further and do some murals,” he said.
The Kosmowskis’ biggest such endeavor involved painting a herd of running horses on the walls where a street passes beneath a railroad bridge downtown. They had less than two weeks to do the work while the street was closed for another project, and worked from morning until dusk.
“I still have the tennis elbow, ” Noemi said.
Then, appraising their work with a critical eye, she added, “They could have been much better-looking horses if we’d had more time.”
Christina Brusig, assistant director of the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, which has worked with the city on the public art project, has nothing but praise for the results of the Kosmowskis’ efforts.
“They have helped Glenwood Springs become what it is today, as far as being artistically beautiful,” Brusig said.