Art is where you find it, and this winter you can find it in the ski lodge on Mount Ashland.
Large collages of skiers and mountain bikers brighten the interior walls of the big, chalet-style building where skiers and snowboarders gather to warm up and grab a bite to eat or get a drink. They're the work of Ashland native Suzy Stone, 41, a painter by training, who turned to collage for psychic relief when she returned to school to study nursing.
Winter brings out the best in some people. Plenty of skiers, snowboarders and snowmobile riders wait eagerly for the first snow on Mount McLoughlin to signal their favorite season. This winter, the Mail Tribune will talk with some of Southern Oregon's "winter people" about their favorite ways to enjoy the short, cold days between fall and spring. If you know someone who might make a good subject for these occasional stories, drop an email to Bill Kettler at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a few details explaining why that person would be interesting for readers, and a phone number to reach you.
An avid skier and cyclist, Stone uses pieces of colored paper to create illusions of depth and light and shadow on a two-dimensional surface. A composition can include hundreds of pieces of carefully shaped paper, pieced together almost like a mosaic. Viewers often mistake the finished images for paintings at first glance, but a closer look reveals the real materials.
"It's interesting how this whole collage thing started," Stone says. She earned a degree in art, but like so many others, had to earn a living outside the art world. She worked as a massage therapist for 15 years, and ran a flower shop in Ashland until the economy tanked.
"It feels like I've had lots of careers," she says, "but I've always identified as an artist."
Approaching middle age, she realized "it was time to get real" and learn a skill that would provide steady employment and a decent income. An interest in human anatomy led her to consider nursing, but she had never taken the science classes that are required to enroll in a nursing program. She returned to Southern Oregon University to complete the prerequisites for nursing school — anatomy, physiology, microbiology and a whole slew of demanding academic classes that were a world apart from her undergraduate art classes.
"It was pretty rigorous, and you had to stay focused," she recalls. "One day I realized I needed a pressure relief valve or I was gonna lose it. I decided I needed a painting class."
She chose a class that focused on nontraditional materials.
"Collage came up, and for whatever reason it really made sense to me," she says. "I love using scraps of paper and using the colors in paper as a paint tool."
Collage (from the French verb coller "to glue") has been a popular art technique for at least 100 years. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began gluing pieces of paper into their compositions in the early 1900s. Collages have also been made from photographs and pieces of cloth, wood and many other materials.
"Collage is a more kinesthetic way to paint," Stone says. "You're ripping these pieces of paper, and you're moving them around on the wood, but you're still making those decisions a painter would make. You just don't have a brush."
Some of her compositions are based on photographs. For others, she makes a rough drawing. For subject matter, she turned to her favorite outdoor sports — cycling, mountain biking and skiing.
"I learned to ski on Mount Ashland," she says, "but I was never a great skier." She took a long hiatus from snow sports when she lived in California. "I never had that burning desire to ski until I moved back to Ashland in 2003."
She decided to learn the telemark ski style when she returned to Mount Ashland. Unlike traditional alpine skis, "tele" skis are attached to the foot only at the toe, with the heel floating free. To turn, the skier bends at the knee and pushes one ski forward, while the other slides behind. It's a lot like doing a lunge in the gym, except on skis.
"I just took to it," she says. "I'm a better tele skier than I ever was a downhill skier. It's great to have the mountain so close."
Artists are always on the lookout for places to show their work, and Stone thought her collages would be just the right thing to bring some color to the Mount Ashland lodge. She happened to know Kim Clark, the ski area's general manager. She approached him about hanging her collages in the lodge and got the OK. Two are displayed on the main floor of the lodge, and two more are on the second level.
"It's great to have Suzy's art showing in our lodge," says Mike Dadaos, the ski area's media director. "They add color and a new look to those old walls, and we've heard a lot of positive comments."
Dadaos said mountain staff are exploring the possibilities for bringing more art to the lodge, but haven't yet organized all the details.
Stone's ski collages also have been featured in several editions of Telemark Skier, a Utah-based publication that serves the "free-heel" crowd. Publisher Josh Madsen saw her work when he was in Ashland to screen a ski movie, and asked her to make a piece for the magazine from the pages of old print editions of the publication, which is now a digital-only product.
"People are really impressed by her work," Madsen says. "It's so blatantly different from what anybody had seen.
"When you say the word 'collage,' sometimes it comes across as a more rudimentary, arts-and-crafts thing," he says, "but the way she shapes these pieces of paper, it's very much like painting. She's really painting with paper."
Stone is now enrolled in the nursing program offered by Oregon Health & Science University at SOU. She says the adrenaline junkie in her might like to work as an emergency-medicine nurse, but she also is drawn to more compassionate fields such as hospice care.
"I'm still exploring," she says. "Maybe I'll love psychiatric nursing. I'm hoping that being a nurse will make me a better artist and vice-versa."
Bill Kettler is a freelance writer living in Rogue River. Reach him at email@example.com.