Kind of like phases of the moon, James and Leigh Ann Van Fossan know well the phases of skepticism that can gradually cross a face.

The sideways look of “yeah, right.” The raised eyebrows. The perplexed, “seriously?” The eyes that glaze as mental wheels turn, trying to comprehend how, exactly, oil paintings could be sent to the moon.

Even their 11-year-old daughter said, “huh...?” when they told her.

And any kind of explanation was way beyond their 2-year-old son’s attention span.

“We’re still baffled,” admitted Leigh Ann Van Fossan. “It will be exciting when it goes.”

“It’s still going to be hard to explain,” said James Van Fossan as the couple sat side-by-side in their Fruita studio.

But they’ll still try, because these artists will each have a digital representation of one of their oil paintings land on the moon in December and they find that to be simply amazing.

It was last December, just a couple months after the artists moved from Eagle to Fruita, that they were both tagged on Facebook. It happens on occasion when their work publishes or something. “I usually ignore them,” Leigh Ann said.

This one was a little different, however. It took her and James to an announcement by a Canadian physicist, author, composer, art curator and film producer that — Surprise! — he was sending their works and those of thousands of other artists, writers and musicians along with selections of his own work in time capsules to the moon.

A BAFFLING SITUATION

Well, that was great, but … what? The Fruita artists were puzzled, to say the least. After a few days, some research and many, many comments by other artists on Facebook, they realized “this guy is on the level,” James said.

His name is Samuel Peralta, and he’s evidently very well-to-do because it can’t be cheap to send a commercial payload, or in this case time capsules, to the moon, Leigh Ann said.

There are three time capsules that make up what Peralta has called The Lunar Codex. There’s The Peregrine Collection, The Nova Collection and The Polaris Collection, according to lunarcodex.com.

These capsules will be sent to the moon along with NASA scientific instruments in three different lunar landers launched by United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.

The Van Fossans’ paintings are part of The Peregrine Collection, which will go into an Astrobotic Technologies lunar lander launched by United Launch Alliance, according to lunarcodex.com. That launch is currently scheduled for December, delayed from July.

The lunar lander is expected to set down on the northeastern part of the moon’s near face, in the lacus mortis, aka “Lake of Death.”

And now you know why Leigh Ann’s parents met this brilliant news with, “uh, cool?”

WHY THEIR WORK?

As for how Peralta came across the Van Fossans’ work, that goes back to 2018.

Both artists are associated with Abend Gallery in Denver and often participate in the gallery’s Holiday Miniature Show. That included the show in November 2018 with a published companion catalogue. The images in the catalogue are now public access and it, along with other art catalogues and poetry and essay publications, were selected to be sent in digital form as part of The Peregrine Collection, the Van Fossans explained.

Their paintings that were part of that 2018 show and catalogue were “Blue,” an 8x10-inch oil on wood by Leigh Ann, and “Sky Ribbons,” an 8x10-inch oil on linen by James.

“Blue” was one of the first in a series of paintings featuring barns. The series was highly collected, and “Blue” was bought a while ago, said Leigh Ann, who has no idea where it is now.

“I was really feeling the peacefullness of winter when I painted that,” she said about the small painting of a barn in blue and gray/brown with snow built up on its roof.

A RETURN TO PAINTING

Leigh Ann has an art degree from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and about the time she graduated, her work was abstract. After a 10-year span away from art while she was a classroom teacher, her husband pulled her back into painting.

“When he made me come back, I was an impressionist. … Technically, it’s called a contemporary impressionism,” she said.

Along with her barn series, Leigh Ann is known for her seascapes. “I’m a Colorado native who specializes in seascape paintings,” she said with a laugh.

James also has multiple sides to his work. He is a figure and narrative painter, and if he could have selected one of his paintings to go to the moon, it would have been “Drama Magnifico,” an oil painting more than 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide featuring more than 100 interwoven figures. The painting took him three years to complete and showed in New York City in 2015, eventually selling to a private collector.

“Sky Ribbons” is one of his skyscapes, an ongoing series of paintings that he usually numbers instead of names. It is No. 22, and it features part of an Arizona sky with the clouds stretched thin and catching the sun’s orange glow.

“Everyone gets a spiritual sense when they look at the sky,” said James, who has painted more than 50 skyscapes. Some depict a gathering storm and others float in a summer day.

No skyline, no earth is in sight in any of his skyscapes, so perhaps that is fitting for a piece headed to the moon, he said. Or at least the digital version of that piece is bound for the heavens. The real one is in the Van Fossans’ studio, and “the price on that one has gone up a lot,” he said with a grin.

Whatever the case, the Van Fossans appreciate that Peralta is using his success and resources to support the arts. It comes at a time when some people see fine art as noise or don’t realized that artists like the opportunity of having their original artwork hanging people’s living rooms, they said. (And that artists are willing to work with them to make it happen, they added.)

Original art has an energy that comes with the seeing brush strokes, the actual touch and intent of the artist, James said.

That may or may not translate in digital on the moon, but the couple likes the idea that at least there’s the possibility. As for who will be viewing their paintings, well, that is still be determined.

Are there going to be maps created so people in the future know where to find these time capsules? Leigh Ann paused to wonder.

“It’s not a joke,” she said.