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Outside the lines

Manitou's WeUsOur Artist's Market

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It's the first Friday in October, and a First Friday event's going on at WeUsOur Artist's Market. The market's co-owner, Maggie Quinn, steadily rings up customers as her partner, Bobby Grubb, serves wine at a small bar in back.

Their October show is called Things that Go Bump in the Night. Two huge, ceramic lions with beautiful, monstrous faces decorate the front window. Wire monsters hang off the ceiling like chimes. Quinn, a potter, has made clay pumpkins and leaves in the style of raku, in which the pieces are removed from the kiln and cooled quickly on newspaper, creating unique swirls of colors.

Aside from the ongoing sales, the opening feels more like a party than an art event. People come into the gallery four at a time; by 7:30 p.m., there are 25 to 30 milling about. A guitarist plays music in the corner, just at the level of conversation, providing the soundtrack to the evening.

The visitors boast a wide mix. Some wear bicycle shoes, some wear collared shirts, some wear long skirts, some have piercings in places difficult to pronounce. They move easily from person to person, introducing themselves and discussing the art on display.

Rex Pillager appears to be a favorite among the featured artists in the show. He draws and creates assemblages, three-dimensional collages made with found objects. His wooden assemblage, "Corporate Sun," hangs on a back wall over a couch. In it, buildings, made with harmonicas and lids from sardine cans, sit under a Pepsi-logo sun.

At around 9:30, a curator and artist from Los Angeles named LeRad comes into the gallery. Although the crowd is mixed, LeRad doesn't seem to jell with it. Maybe it's because he looks oh-so-important, wearing slacks and a blazer, without a tie. He's one of few visitors who has actually been to several other openings tonight, and unlike the menagerie of visitors milling around WeUsOur this evening, he thinks Pillager's collages fail as cohesive compositions. He says he likes the more traditional work, a big abstract expressionist painting to the left of the door. And that's pretty much it.

But a traditional gallery was never what Grubb and Quinn envisioned.

"We wanted to show artists who don't paint landscapes and don't do watercolor, but are still really good artists," Quinn says.

The road to WeUsOur

The history of WeUsOur Artist's Market begins in 2005. As Quinn tells it, four travelers who train-hopped to the Springs met her college-student son Harley one day at Boulder Street Coffee Roasters. After bonding almost immediately with these strangers, Harley took them to his home, where Quinn eventually decided to let them stay the night. Later, this collective of people, who called themselves "WeUsOur," would lease some property from Quinn, who owns and remodels buildings throughout town.

Soon after meeting the We UsOur gang, Quinn bought another house. She hoped to remodel it and use the profits to open a gallery. Grubb was one of the handful of "punk kids around town" whom Quinn asked to help her with the remodel. Impressed by Grubb's work ethic, Quinn soon asked Grubb to be her partner in the gallery she hoped to open.

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Once Quinn had found a space on Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs, the former home of the endearing Filthy Wilma's gallery and studio, the wheels started to move. With Grubb by her side, she determined that the space should show outsider artists those who make untraditional work and typically get ignored by galleries. Inspired by her friends' sense of community, and in the spirit of continuing her own acceptance of outsiders, Quinn named the gallery "WeUsOur."

The pair sought out artists like Laxmi Kumar Prajapati, who worked to keep pottery alive in his village in Nepal. Thimi had traditionally been a pottery village, where craftsmen traded clay vessels for food. But the craft started dwindling as people gained access to plastic. In order to maintain his livelihood with the craft, Prajapati moved to Snowmass and began his own studio, Thimi Ceramics. He also runs a co-operative for potters to share the expenses of their trade.

Meanwhile, other artists began seeking Quinn and Grubb. Within the first year of Quinn's renting a house to the four WeUsOur travelers, word of her kindness spread throughout traveling culture all the way to Grand Rapids, Mich., and to an artist named Logan Fischer. After hearing about the WeUsOur House and the creative energy it harbored, Fischer got his thumb out and headed to the Springs, hitchhiking nearly the entire way.

A different destination

Back at the gallery, it's after 10 o'clock. The opening was supposed to end at 8, but the people have almost refused to go. They chat and glance over a group of eccentric teddy bear-like monsters created by one of WeUsOur's namesakes; dish sets and coffee cups handcrafted by Prajapati; and Fischer's paintings.

Toward the back of the building, people have gathered around the tables that hold the night's snacks: dips, chips, olives, veggies. This area had been a studio in the Filthy Wilma's gallery, but Grubb remodeled it, putting in a kitchenette and adding tables, chairs, a small serving bar, a couch and coffee table.

LeRad, meanwhile, still hasn't found much to enjoy. He's even unimpressed with the space itself. He says the market isn't set up the way galleries are in L.A., where each artist gets his or her own undivided area.

To his credit, he's right. WeUsOur is not a "big-city" gallery. Those galleries tend toward the quiet and sterile, with contemplative people standing in front of a piece of work, drink and plate in hand.

Maybe he'd enjoy that atmosphere more. But tonight, at WeUsOur, the patrons seem to think this one's just fine.

"We wanted a more homey feeling," says Grubb, "instead of it feeling like a formal place where you have to walk on thin ice."

scene@csindy.com

Things that Go Bump in the Night

WeUsOur Artist's Market, 10 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs

Daily through Halloween, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For information, call 685-9702.

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