New gallery owners hope to elevate local arts scene

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Clara Thomas recently opened Western Stars Gallery & Studio with Betsy Hubner and Crystal DeCoster.

By Jeffrey V. Smith
The three owners of a new art gallery and studio are doing what they can to enhance the Lyons arts scene by “committing to excellence in arts and art education.” Western Stars Gallery & Studio offers a variety of carefully chosen fine art, Western antiques, unique home furnishings, and select gifts. Its studio supplies a space for professional artists to “instruct and inspire” children and adults while offering the town a new meeting space for a variety of activities. Co-owners Clara Thomas, Betsy Hubner, and Chrystal DeCoster hope their new business will help reinstate Lyons’ place as an arts and antiques destination. The entire project began over an idea to host a Sip ‘n’ Paint event at the town’s new Ax & Oar Restaurant.

About a year ago, Thomas had the idea for a Sip ‘n’ Paint. When she pitched her idea to local artist Betsy Hubner—who is part of the group that owns the building containing both the Ax & Oar and the space that is now Western Stars Gallery & Studio—the idea to connect a gallery to the restaurant was born. “She’s an artist and always had the dream to have a gallery. I threw it out there, to connect the gallery with the restaurant by having a Sip ‘n’ Paint and having classes. That idea just kind of sat for a little while until we revisited it last October. We opened up Nov. 15.”

Once open, the owners received “a really warm” reception and greeting from the community. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with just how people have welcomed us,” Thomas said. “Opening in a small town in the winter is definitely hard. Going through the slow winter months, we’re really depending on the classes to pull us through. And they have.” Western Stars’ weekly Thursday evening Sip ‘n’ Paint events have been a “big hit” and are “a lot of fun,” according to Thomas. A liquor license that covers the entire building allows participants to enjoy a drink with the class. “That’s been fun, too,’ she said.

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Arthur Lee Land in the studio at Western Stars Gallery & Studio

Thomas is proud of the diversity of classes and subjects offered in the studio and tries to compliment what others are doing, rather than compete. “We are trying to offer a variety of classes with different subjects, and be very open and welcoming to all kinds of private classes. We try to offer paintings and classes unique to the Lyons area for the people who live here and the people who love this town… and want something unique they can’t get at other Sip ‘n’ Paint events.”

The studio has been experimenting with a variety of classes to see what works. “We’re open to all ideas. The possibilities are endless,” Thomas said. They have been “playing” with ideas like having musicians playing during workshops. Arthur Lee Land and Billy Shaddox have both participated. There are also live figure drawing classes and workshops taught by well-known regional and visiting artists.

According to Thomas, most people who come in have never picked up a paint brush or are fearful of a painting class. The social aspect of the events, thanks to the opportunity to have wine and beer from the restaurant next door, make the classes more of a fun evening out. “Everyone seems to be pleasantly surprised with what they walk away with at the end of the evening, too,” she said.

Bridal showers are a market they are just beginning to tap. Thomas wants to branch out past painting and offer calligraphy classes where a bride-to-be can make place cards or, perhaps, flower arranging classes. “They come and have a glass of wine and make a little flower centerpiece or bouquet or something, and have a great time. Then they can also do some shopping in the gallery,” she said.

Kids classes are also offered. Thomas teaches them after school. “That’s been a really great way for kids to get a little extra enrichment then they are getting in school and gives parents a chance to not have to pick up their kid until 5:30 p.m.,” she explained. “I walk over to the school and pick them up and bring them here.” This summer, “great teachers” will be brought in to teach younger kids and teens.

Currently, Hubner and Amanda Faubus, an “amazing artist and teacher,” are leading many classes. “We really pride ourselves on the quality of their instruction and a lot of one-on-one time. Even if we have a class full of 15 people, they’ll each go around and give advice to each person. People are not just about making a painting… but increasing their skills in acrylic.”

Western Stars1“We’re also constantly open to new teachers,” Thomas said. “We want to offer to the community a place for artists to teach as well as for community members to take classes. We’re flexible to however that might work. We have this great studio space available for meetings, gatherings or parties, poetry readings or whatever it might be.”

In the future, Thomas hopes to continue to diversify classes and offer more events that appeal to men and boys and have events like “Meet the Artists” nights.

Western Stars’ substantial gallery space is filled with art from local and Colorado artists. The Western-themed items are unique and one-of-a-kind with most being exclusive to the gallery. “We feel that with our spot—being here where people might see us first—we want to take a lasso, pull them in and say, ‘we have this great store, but there are also all these other galleries and shops in town.’ We’re also getting back into antiques, which Lyons used to be well-known for. It’s kind of gone away since the flood.”

The gallery is curated by Hubner and DeCoster, who are both “very, very connected” with local arts and are members of Lyons Arts & Humanities Commission. “We are judiciously building a diverse array high-quality gift options, nodding to the beautiful wedding venues in the immediate area. Gourmet food, greeting cards, custom bridal parties and possibly a florist are all folding into our ever-unfolding mix,” DeCoster said. “We are oh so excited and appreciative to be a part of the reawakening Renaissance of this wonderful arts destination.”

The pride of the store are 11 pieces of world renowned renown acrylic and pencil artist Ezra Tucker’s wildlife work. “We are in good company with numerous highly recognized galleries who also proudly represent him,” DeCoster said. Tucker’s bold and distinctive style of painting animals “reflects his acute observation of his subjects and displays an intimate and emotional portrait quality rarely seen in wildlife art.” His wife’s ethnically-influenced jewelry line has become a top seller.

The gallery has also been selling a lot of Hubner’s acrylic paintings, which will also hang through May at a solo show entitled, “Birds of Spring” opening in the Lyons Town Hall in Lyons, April 2.

Beyond the abundant art and photography on the walls, there is a surprising amount of other high quality and very unique creations throughout the gallery. There are candles, jewelry, purses, home furnishings, pottery, books and music by local authors and musicians, cards, wood items, body and salt scrubs, didgeridoos,  and too much more to name. or even see in a single visit.

“We try to have a variety of price points. Someone can come in and get a smaller gift, up to the large paintings,” Thomas said. “We’re trying not to be just another trinket shop. We want to be a high end gallery inspired by places in Santa Fe. It’s something the town has needed, bringing it up to another caliber.”

In addition to the weekly Sip ‘n’ Paint classes, many more art workshops are offered in April and every month. Check the gallery’s website for a list and details.

Western Stars Gallery & Studio is located at 60 E. Main St. in Lyons. Visit or call 303-747-3818 for more information.

Originally published in the April 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly

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