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Aspen artist remembered for sense of humor, commitment, kindness

Nov 30, 2015

A photograph of the late Betty Weiss taken in November. Weiss died early Monday at age 90.
Credit Jim Paussa

    

Long-time Aspen resident and artist Betty Weiss passed away early Monday at age 90. Weiss was deeply involved in the local arts community and created her own abstract paintings. Friends say she was a committed artist with a great sense of humor. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen has this remembrance.

Executive Director of the Red Brick Center for the Arts Angie Callen steps into a dimly lit studio full of colorful acrylics, watercolors and collages. This is where artist Betty Weiss spent much of her time.

"She was definitely very prolific. There are stacks of canvasses and finished work - some framed and some not yet framed. And there’s a piece on the desk that she was in the process of working on because she was still coming to the studio."

Weiss was the longest-running resident artist at the Red Brick. She worked in a studio there for two decades.
Credit Marci Krivonen

The unfinished piece is surrounded by used paintbrushes and tubes of paint. Weiss created art here for two decades - longer than any other resident artist in the building.

"Her health declined quite a bit and quite rapidly about a year ago, but before that she was here every afternoon for several hours," says Callen. "She was definitely an institution here at the Red Brick.”

Weiss’ creativity began early. In a 2013 interview with Grassroots TV, she said she started drawing as a young child but began exploring art in earnest after she married.

"During the years I was raising kids my husband watched a lot of TV rather than talk (laughs). So I thought, ‘I’ve got to find something to do with myself.’ That’s when I started making art.”

Some of Weiss' work in her studio at the Red Brick in Aspen.
Credit Marci Krivonen

Skiing initially brought her to Aspen, but it was the community that led to her move in 1977. She lived part-time in Aspen then. The main draw was...

"...the kind of people who were here," she says. "They weren’t tourists and it was just the kind of intensity that I saw in people who lived here, that I liked.”

In her artwork, she mainly used acrylics. The late Stewart Oksenhorn, who wrote for the Aspen Times, described her work as - quote - “instantly recognizable as her own, in the way she studies texture, dimensions and the interaction of shape.” He adds, “The shapes are almost always sharp edges and rarely curving lines.”

Weiss’ creativity extended to dance, as well. Before the formation of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, she took a tap dance class. That’s how she met the soon-to-be founders of the company. She was an early board member. Ballet Director Jean-Phillippe Malaty says she never missed a performance and was a great “cheerleader” for the company.

Weiss also served on the board of the Aspen Art Museum. Heidi Zuckerman is CEO.

Betty Weiss and friends in 2012.
Credit Kurt Papenfus

"She was on the board during my tenure," Zuckerman says. "She had a gregarious personality. One of my favorite things about her was that every time she greeted me when she arrived or when she was leaving, she would pat my hand and call me ‘doll.’”

She says Weiss’ passing is a loss to the local arts community.

"Anytime someone from the artistic community passes, it’s sad. I just thought she had such an amazing, dynamic, vivacious personality and a real sense of humor. She always had a twinkle in her eye that I appreciated."

Back at the Red Brick Center for the Arts, director Angie Callen gestures toward Weiss’ work.

"We’re surrounded by a lot of bright colors, geometric shapes from a lot of her abstract paintings that I think are sort of 70’s inspired.”

It’ll be different, she says, to not have Weiss around.

"It’s definitely going to be a change to think that Betty won’t be in her studio on a Tuesday at 3 o’clock. We’re losing someone who’s been very important to the organization and our resident artist program.”

Back in 2013, Weiss told John Masters of Grassroots TV art isn’t for everyone even though it was a right fit for her.

Masters: “What do you suggest to people whose parents tell them, ‘You may be good at it but you’ll never make money as an artist?’”

Weiss: “Sometimes you need to follow what you need to do and if you need to do it, you need to do it - not for money, but for your own personal needs and what it means for yourself.”

Weiss will be remembered this week at the Red Brick’s First Thursday Art Opening.