Feature article, cover story.
[Cedaredge, Colo. | San Juan Silver Stage, March 2020 | By Kathryn R. Burke]
WHICH CAME FIRST? The apples or the art? Art. (The apples came along a little later.) From the time she was a small child—drawing on her grandfather’s bald head (with consequences) until this moment, when she is wielding a paintbrush—Connie Williams’ heart is in her art.
“I always loved to paint and draw. When I was little, I used to go behind the couch and draw on the walls. My mother started buying me paper—to save the walls,” she laughed. “I’d go through a ream a week.” She also used the paper to design and cut out her own paper dolls, each different, each unique. “I always went outside the lines and embellished whatever I was working on,” she said. Williams described a school project where the kids were all instructed to draw a feather, which would be placed on the class turkey. Her feather was bigger (and more ornamental) than the other children’s. When the teacher worried that it was too big, Williams suggested putting her feather in the middle and arranging the other, smaller ones around it.
In grade school, some of her artwork was selected for an art exchange with European schools. In 7th grade, she won the National Poster Contest. Her high school teacher found her so advanced that “she put me in back of a screen, where I could work independently, and she brought in college-level courses to keep me artistically challenged.”
While she was making art and winning art awards, Williams was also riding horses, which she loved to paint, too. Williams grew up in Montrose, where her father owned the Western Slope Livestock Commission Company, “so I was always around livestock. I loved horses, learned to train them and sell them and rodeo.” She excelled at barrel racing, and wound up Rodeo Queen, Little Britches Queen, and “queen” of just about everything else that had to do with Western Slope rodeo.
“Winning” could be Williams middle name. At Western State, she majored in Business and Education—the first time around. She went back 10 years later for her art degree and was named Alumni Art in 1997, Alumni of the Business in 1998, Alumni of the Entire School in 1999, and Alumni of Excellents. in the year 2000. Her picture hangs in Taylor Hall.
She married her husband, Dan, in her junior year (during her first stint at Western) and moved to Cedaredge, where they had their first child. A car wreck in 1983 slowed her down a little—she’s had nine accidents, all with serious consequences, “but none were my fault, and I’ve never had a ticket.” She said. While recovering, she went back to Western for her art degree. This woman may be down occasionally, but you can never count her out! Another wreck (on black ice on Dallas Divide in 1989) temporarily cost her the use of her hands—not good for an artist.
So, Connie purchased the AppleShed (originally the Cedaredge Fruit Company building), all 28,000 square feet of it! from her husband, who, with some business partners, had acquired it in a foreclosure sale. “I saw the possibilities,” she remembered, “knew it would make a terrific art gallery.” She healed her damaged hands and wrists and built strength in her shoulders and neck by doing “skip trowel” on the walls of the old building. “I wanted to recreate the 1920’s type of finish inside as well as out.”
Before long, she was sitting at a table, painting, and someone came in and bought the painting right off the table! She was back in business as an artist and representative of Western Colorado art.
“This building is what really created me in the art world,” Williams said. “My passion is to promote and develop new artists, help them get going.” As AppleShed gallery space improved and increased, Williams began hosting shows for young people as well as local and regional artists. “We hung the K-12 Little Cedars show three months out of the year, had a reception, and presented awards so the kids could learn what it was like to show and sell their art. One little girl sold 10 pieces! Enough to help her go to college.” Western State offered 25 scholarships during those years. Participating students came from around the region, not just Cedaredge.
Today, the AppleShed is an artistic feast and destination in and of itself. Every room, every nook and cranny holds a delightful surprise and a sensual array of form, color, taste, and texture. You can wander around for hours, touching, seeing, feeling, experiencing creativity in so many ways. And when you get hungry? There is a deli with delicious food. Thirsty? Try an apple milkshake! Or sample one of the velvety wines from the Williams Cellars.
The AppleShed is all about art and its myriad forms (maybe more than you even imagined until you walked through the doors). AppleShed art speaks to what you eat or drink: from jams and jellies to award-winning wines to…apples, of course. Art you wear: beautiful clothing and irresistible jewelry. Art for your home: fine furniture, framed original works or prints for your walls, fun things for the kitchen, creative choices for every room in the house…and outside, too.
Art. AppleShed. Connie Williams. The words are synonymous. If you haven’t been, you need to go—to see the art and meet Connie, who is the art.