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Found objects celebrate local history, get 'Homecoming'

Claire Woodcock/Aspen Public Radio News

For two years, local artist Lara Whitley has been collecting and working with pieces of pottery and glass found on trails near her home. Now she’s assembled these pieces into a new work called “Homecoming.”


It began the fall before last, when the vegetation was dormant, where Lara Whitley would take her dog for walks by her home just outside Aspen.

“...and what I noticed was there were shiny things kind of glimmering at me in the dirt,” she said.


Pieces of broken glass and stamped pottery were sticking out of the ground. If unbroken, this is the kind of functional art that could be found in an antique store.


“I was curious," Whitley began, "Well, whose stuff is this? Who were the people that threw this away and why is it here? Because, day after day, I’d walk, and I was filling my pockets with this stuff.”


Whitley dug in. She enlisted the help of Anna Scott, an archivist with the Aspen Historical Society.


"Basically she was finding remnants," said Scott. "Mainly what we would call trash but historical trash, essentially, and the trash was mainly like bottles and fragments, some houseware items, some ranching things, miscellaneous kind of what lasts from 100 years or 80 years from before.”


Scott said defining the area was difficult because the location looks really different today than it did a century ago.  


“We were looking at old pictures," said Scott. "A lot of times old pictures aren't looking at exactly what she wanted to look at but they might have the area she was looking at in it so we'd have to zoom in and kind of get a right orientation.”


Then, the two started digging through Bureau of Land Management records. That’s when Whitley and Scott uncovered that these sites were actually old ranching dumps. Families would bury their household items, or trash, on a plot of their land. This was before municipal dumps were a thing.


“Then we actually were able to start defining some of the families that might have lived there, and she was able to then kind of go back to some long term locals whose families had been part of that area or knew of the area," said Scott.


One of those families were the Moore’s. In the ’60s, real estate agent James E. Moore purchased property that’s since has become the Aspen School District and residential neighborhoods. Tom Moore walked the historic property and remembers his parents’ doing the same kind of collecting.


“...and in this particular spot over here is a spot where some people of my mom and dad’s generation would come to look for valuable bottles because they were just dumped over this edge," said Moore.


Whitley unearthed many of the pieces from a nearby reservoir. What was once a field used to grow potatoes and grains is now covered in sagebrush. Up at the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek, the results of Whitley’s findings hang from the art studio’s ceiling. The studio has a window that looks out on Independence Pass. Suspended from the ceiling are roughly 1,200 pieces of the bottle glass she’s collected over the last two years.


“'Homecoming' is made of all bottle glass of all the shades from clear to pale green to that milky aqua blue to a dark bottle green, and it is suspended from a rack on the ceiling," said Whitley. "I have drawn the house, if you will, with wires. I have strung the glass on a line like birds on a wire.”


Through this found art, Whitley’s developed a deeper connection to the land and to the stories of this valley. She named the piece “Homecoming” to signify the recycling of found art as it’s given a new purpose.


“As I drilled it, as I strung it, I have gotten physically very close to me and so that is something that has moved me a bit to recognize that I'm kind of I'm accidentally reaching into the past to draw this stuff back to our future," she said.


“Homecoming” will reside in the R2 Gallery of The Launchpad in Carbondale from Sept. 8 through Oct. 6.


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