When he was a young boy in South Carolina, Jim Wider says, his mom always knew how to find him. She just had to look for his stick drawings in the dirt of neighbors' yards.
The artist and owner of Southwinds Fine Art Gallery grew up without art supplies or museum visits: "I had the desire and talent, but no exposure." African-American children didn't visit museums, he says. Incidentally, his first museum experience was at the Louvre, while he was in the military.
"I started at the top," he says, chuckling.
After retiring from the military in 1975, Wider studied art at the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State University-Pueblo). In 1983, he opened the original Southwinds Gallery on Weber Street. Six years later, Southwinds relocated to a space near Peterson Air Force Base, where it stayed until 1998. By 2008, Southwinds was fully functioning again, this time on Wider's north end Colorado Springs property.
In an open house this weekend, Southwinds will host work from artists including Mariya Zvonkovich, Mike Couillard, Jean Forsythe and T. McKinsey, plus offer live music and free art lessons. But the main attraction will likely be Wider, whose paintings hang in the collections of Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell and "Mean" Joe Greene, to name a few. Certificates of recognition and letters of thanks from the likes of the U.S. House of Representatives and Maya Angelou adorn the stairwell to the gallery like family photographs.
And like family photos, every piece in Wider's collection reflects a memory. "Summer Shower" shows the artist as a young boy, standing in the rain as it pours off a tin roof. "Sweeping" shows an older woman wearing an apron, knees bent, sweeping the floor with a broom made of dried hay.
But the artist's impressive range extends beyond personal memories. His oil paintings, watercolors and pencil drawings depict everything from daily life in the South to Pueblo scenes to dancers in motion.