It was the trout popping out of a snowbank to snatch a butterfly that led Stuart Codington Andrews to Buena Vista.
Andrews had been living the dream of a professional freestyle skier in Aspen for a decade through his young adult life. He competed on tours that offered cash prizes and equipment sponsors supplied most of his gear.
“For me, skiing leveled the playing field,” he says. “I was a paid athlete who could put out a 150-foot backflip, and gain the attraction of a woman, who would then generally talk to me,” he says and laughs. “I was also known as the guy who was the innovator of new freestyle moves that later became the standard and it was nice to get that credit. During team practice, I was usually the one willing to go first. On a new jump, we’d all look at it and sort of wonder if it would work. So, I’d just go for it. If I made it, the others would jump it. If I missed it, we’d all go home.”
Outside of the ski season, summer months would bring mountain biking, hiking and fishing.
“I also spent a lot of time drawing,” he says. “My mother was an artist and my earliest influence. Her maiden name is my middle name so in honor of her, I sign all of my work Codington.”
The love of fishing became another passion for Andrews and he began leading fishing trips out of Aspen.
“There were only rainbow trout in Aspen, so I’d pop over to Buena Vista with clients for the brown trout, while visiting a good friend who lived here. I got to know the area well.”
He says, “By the time I was 29, I saw that most of my ski buddies were either getting hurt, or becoming a shell of who they once were. I did not want either of those things to happen to me. I also began to realize that the real prize out there was finding a place I could put down roots.”
So, in contemplating his future, the dream of the trout in the snowbank came to him.
“After I had this dream, my ski buddies and I were driving from Vail to Boulder and I had them stop the car at Copper Mountain. I got out of the car, with just my art pad, leaving my ski equipment to them, and told them, ‘My life as an artist begins today.’”
As the car drove away and with his vision leading the way, he hitchhiked to Buena Vista, ending up at the Dinner Bell Café in Johnson Village. There he saw his friend, Hal Hagen, having dinner.
Hal told him that his hired man at the fish hatchery that he owned with his father, Dr. Harold Hagen, had just quit. “I saw that as a sign,” Andrews says. “I asked them to give me a trial run to replace this guy. And, they did, and I passed the test.”
For the next 3 years, until the spring of 1987, Andrews worked at the fish hatchery. “We worked 24-7. And when we weren’t working, we were constantly studying the fish. The idea was to learn to think like a fish. It was the best education I could have had in the field,” he says.
Andrews says that while he lived in the trailer on the fish hatchery property at Ruby Mountain, whenever he had time, he’d work on his art.
His trout dream led him to producing an oil painting called “Rites of Spring.” He became acquainted with other artists in the community, naming Grant Heilman, Barbara Whipple, Suzanne McDonald and Toni Evins as those among his earliest friends in the valley.
“They inspired me and encouraged me,” he says. He began actively participating in the Chaffee County Council of the Arts, and entering art shows.
“Eventually,” Andrews says, “thanks to my love of movies, I met up with Tom Robitaille, who had just purchased the old corner grocery store (now Gone to the Dogs), for a video store. Tom showed me the upstairs of this antique building dating back to the late 1800s. The light was streaming in through the windows on the old original flooring, and I asked him if I helped renovate it, if I could use it as an art studio. He agreed.” So from 1988-2006, Andrews developed his artistic skills in the studio apartment.
In 1993, and after receiving local and national recognition for his art, he rented the space downstairs for his gallery, known as The View Art and Media.
“I had the work of 12 artists of various styles, genres or whimsy that had the feel of what I tried to create in my work in this space,” he says.
He added music CDs and tapes, and introduced many local kids to the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Eminem.
In 2002, he added the inventory from Suzanne McDonald’s Creekside Books.
Andrews says that “painting is like an instrument in a war zone. It is the most challenging thing I do. My sister, who is a published poet, calls it my ‘rage to master.’ Those of us who are known as sensitives are the incredibly creative-crazy types. I take in stimuli – music, society, pop culture and so on – and it can be this sensory overload. I put it all together in incongruous ways. It’s like mental knitting, to make sense of it all.”
He says that when he creates art there are two beautiful moments.
“The first moment is the idea, and I smile. Then there is this interval of chaos in the space between, before the next beautiful moment. It includes the time, the work and the challenges. There was a day during the chaotic episode that I threw out six of my paintings from the second story window of my studio. They were run over by cars. Later in the day, I calmed down and gathered them up and finished them. But then comes the moment I finally sign my name on my work, and it is that second beautiful moment of peace of mind, and I can smile again.”
Andrew’s career has been a steady success story. In 2005, he closed The View as he began to experience greater financial success.
“Collectors began seeking out my work, and I was commissioned to do massive pieces. One recently consisted of three large panels measuring 54 square feet for a hunting lodge west of Steamboat Springs. It took me 5 months to finish all but one small 6-inch diameter area, and that space alone took another 11 weeks.”
The outcome of that project provided income for Andrews for the next 2 years, and very happy customers.
Currently Andrews is working on a large-scale work that incorporates changes of the West in the past six decades.
It will include his signature style of oil painting, a sense of humor, a pun in the title, and an ongoing source of amusement and whimsy. He hopes to display his project in Denver in 2018.
“I imagine people wearing waders through water on the floor of my art show, with trout swimming through, and images of Marilyn Monroe and The Doors … that would be some show.”
As Andrews reflects on his work he says he sees a shift. “My work is becoming a little tamer,” he says. Last month, he was looking forward to his wedding with fiancé Joy Ammons.
“We’ll have a little ceremony under the natural altar of an aspen grove and the rolling landscapes of Trout Creek Pass. We are both kindred spirits to the natural beauty of this valley.”
Beyond his painting projects Andrews hope to write an adolescent novel someday.
“It will be a fantasy/mythological story. I’ve been working on the illustrations for it for 40 years,” he says. “I also will continue working for Greg Felt and Rod Patch with their ArkAnglers Guide Service. I’m grateful to them that I can indulge my passion of fly fishing as their head guide. It is the best therapeutic recreation out there.”