Celebrating art at the new Huerfano County Judicial Center

The new Huerfano County Judicial Center will offer more than delivering judicial services for the 3rd Judicial District for the State of Colorado. The new building is a community landmark that will host community activities and events at outdoor public spaces, and showcase the art inside. Even the brick facade of the building is designed to support community. Large expanses on front of the building are designed using brick frames with specialty lighting and embedded hooks to accommodate giant art banners. From the beautiful stained glass, handcrafted woodwork, and various art in different forms, the new Huerfano County Judicial Center showcases locally-sourced art, demonstrating a connection to the community and representing the rich history of art throughout Huerfano County. The new judicial center stands as a proud architectural presence in the main street area of Walsenburg, and is uniquely adorned by the community, and for the community.

Celebrating art at the new Huerfano County Judicial Center
Celebrating art at the new Huerfano County Judicial Center

Community Art Collaboration

Artwork featured in the new building is coordinated and curated by a team of legal minds and locally-based art advocates, including Chief Judge Leslie Gerbracht, former Chief Judge Claude Appel, and Museum of Friends (MoF) founders Brendt Berger and Maria Cocchiarelli.The featured art is on loan from the Museum of Friends or donated by the artists.

The first art installation in the building is titled, “Who Is Walsenburg?”, a continuation of a long-standing exhibit at MoF called, “Where is Walsenburg?” The exhibit features work by artist-in-residence Zoë Childerley from London. Her portraits portray local Huerfano County residents. Among Zoë’s pieces include a portrait of Maria’s elderly mother, who writes about her feelings on the community.

Another is a portrait of Nick Farris standing outside of Walsenburg, reflecting on the land. The Farris family has long ties to the community arriving from Syria to work in the coal mines, were present at the Ludlow Massacre, and helped found Libre, the counter-culture art community in Huerfano County. Other portraits include an elderly couple and Armando, a local resident known for his large stature and cheerful personality.

In addition to Zoë’s portraits, other artists are exhibited including retired Chief Judge Claude Appel. His pieces are showcased in the courtrooms. One features a musician and the other, a homeless woman.

According to Maria, “The selection of the pieces for the building is very intentional. Brendt and I visited the space, took measurements of the large wall spaces, and along with the team, selected appropriate pieces fitting a public courthouse setting.” Both Brendt and Maria expect to see future phases of the art showcased in the building. They hope to offer an online art tour through the judicial center soon.

When talking about the space in the new building, Maria added, “We just loved the building and the lighting and the natural light. And the building is just outstanding. It’s such an attribute to what’s been happening in the area and contribution to the town. It’s amazing.”

About the Museum of Friends

Located along Walsenburg’s historic main street, MoF is a contemporary art museum founded in 2006. Maria and Brendt are artists and art activists with national reputations and connections to artists across the globe. They left New York and landed in the Southern Colorado rural community of Walsenburg to open a new museum with a vision to celebrate their friends’ art. The initial collection included 600 works donated or gifted by artist friends, some with renowned reputations.

A Nod to Frank Lloyd Wright Through Stained Glass Art

Just inside the new Huerfano County Judicial Center’s main entrance is a four-panel series of stained glass windows. Visible from inside and out, the east-facing windows bring dramatic morning light cast through the stained glass into the two-story foyer.

Artist Jane Riege designed, fabricated, and installed the stained glass at the new Huerfano County Judicial Center. According to Jane, she worked with Chief Judge Leslie Gerbracht to develop the concept. “We looked at existing stained glass in the adjacent historic building, discussed Native American influences, and referenced brick coloring patterns on the new building. According to Jane, “The final design blends a bit of Frank Lloyd Wright reference with an abstract arrow-like form. A white background accentuates the earth-toned color patterns, with a horizontal line that continues across the four panels, creates a visual connector.” Each stained glass panel measures 36-inches wide by 43-inches tall. Installing stained glass is a careful process, and Jane was hands-on for the two-hour installation at the new courthouse.

“The multicolored light from the stained glass windows pass through a series of spiraling light fixtures that hang from the ceiling,” according to Wells Squier, Principal Architect of Anderson Hallas Architects, who served as the architect for the project. “It creates a dramatic scene when filling the foyer with light.”

About Jane Reige and the Glass Menagerie

Jane is the owner of the Glass Menagerie based in Colorado Springs. For 50 years, she has created glass art for significant buildings and like-minded glass art enthusiasts. Past significant commissions have included work at the Broadmoor, and Grace and St. Steven’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs. Jane is currently working on another major project in Death Valley where nods to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous craftsman influence will be featured.

More Than a Typical Docket

Another art feature are the handmade docket frames. Tom Franklin, Head of Court and Facilities Planning for the State of Colorado, custom-made the new frames. Tom was instrumental in helping the new building get developed, but is also invested in its success beyond his day-job. Besides overseeing court projects across Colorado’s 64 counties, Tom is also an accomplished woodworker.

“When the old Supreme Court Building was demolished in 2010, I salvaged some of the original oak wood and made frames for courthouse dockets. This saved money on the construction because new dockets could be ordered without the added costs of new frames,” stat­ed Tom. Three docket frames, handcrafted in Tom’s backyard barn workshop, now adorn the new Huerfano County Judicial Center walls outside each courtroom and in the building’s main foyer.

Acclaimed Photographer Byway of Chief Judge

Retired Chief Judge Claude W. Appel served the State of Colorado’s 3rd Judicial District between 1985-2019. He’s also known as Claude W. Appel Photographer.

During a prestigious legal career, Judge Appel was acknowledged for his judicial service, even receiving a “Judicial Excellence Award” in 2014 from the Colorado Judicial Institute in Denver. He presided over some of Colorado’s highest-profile cases over his 34-year career. While building a public reputation in the courts, he discreetly worked a side-gig as an artist for many years.

Today Judge Appel is retired and more likely to be found in one of Huerfano County’s artist hangouts like the Museum of Friends or an artist co-op in LaVeta’s Creative District. As an accomplished photographer, his work is featured in area galleries and permanently displayed at the new Huerfano County Courthouse—appropriately adorning courtroom walls.

A Judge’s Penchant for Art

Judge Claude W. Appel grew up surrounded by art: “I’d always grown up with art and artists in the family, and I think some of that rubbed off.” His mother and father were both in the arts—his mother in ceramics, and his father, a Shakespeare Scholar. The family surrounded themselves with diverse music that ranged from classical to local blues musicians like Billy Holiday in their hometown Chicago.

Appel’s parents moved from Chicago to the Black Hills where Claude was born in Deadwood, South Dakota, eventually settling in Southern Colorado. They became close friends with artists and writers across Southern Colorado and the Taos-Santa Fe, New Mexico art scene.

When asked how he got into art, Judge Appel shared, “In high school, I took a photography class and loved developing in the lab, watching something come to life. I really got into it big time in the early nineties. When I started to show my work, I overcame my absolute terror of sharing my work. Eventually, I got invited into a gallery, which spurred more work. It was great creative inspiration being around other artists.”

Navigating the life of judge and artist was a bit of artistic maneuvering. Judge Appel recognized a stark contrast people had of him when he wore the “hat” of a judicial robe versus the “hat” of an artist. He admits, “There is a different interaction with people when you’re in a position of authority. It’s almost an understandable resentment and sometimes fear.”

Advocacy for Art in the New Huerfano County Judicial Center

During Judge Appel’s legal tenure and the beginnings of a grassroots effort to get a new courthouse built for the rural community in Southern Colorado, he became an advocate for getting art incorporated into the new building.

Several precedents inspired him. One is famed photographer John Fielder’s photography and other art showcased at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver. Built in 2012, the building is filled with art supported by the State’s Art in Public Places program.

Another inspiration is artist Joan Hanley who worked in sculpture, big bronzes, small sculptures, oils, and acrylic paintings. Judge Appel said about Joan, “She was at the intersection of art and law for many years. In the old days of books, us we lawyers saw her illustrations on the inside cover of the West Publications legal journals.” Like him, Joan also ended up settling in Southern Colorado among the Town of LaVeta and Huerfano County’s celebrated art community.

The Benefit of Art in a Rural Courthouse

Judge Appel believes it’s important to have art in public spaces. “Art isn’t something that most people go to art galleries for in the boonies, right? That’s not something typically on our radar. But people do go to the courthouse and judicial center for lots of reasons. Exposing people to art can be really enjoyable to people when they’re coming in for business. Whatever the art, it could be informative and exciting for them.”

When it came to incorporating art in the new building, Judge Appel appealed to Bob Kreiman, Court Executive for the Huerfano County Judicial Center, making the case of integrating art in the new building. “Coupled with the history of art in this area, I dreamt that if we ever got a new building, which was a dream for many, many, many years, but if we did, not to turn it into a museum, but at least have part of the public space devoted to local art. That was the dream. Seeing the building come to fruition with art on display as envisioned is a dream come true. That’s pretty cool.”

The Judge’s Curated Selections: “Backstory” and “Lady in Waiting”

Artwork featured in the new Huerfano County Courthouse is coordinated and curated by a team of legal minds and locally-based art advocates, including Chief Judge Leslie Gerbracht, former Chief Judge Claude Appel, and Museum of Friends founders Brendt Berger and Maria Cocchiarelli.The featured art is on loan from the Museum of Friends or donated by the artists. The curators chose two photographs from Judge Appel’s portfolio, described by Judge Appel below.

Backstory. “Both the identity of the subject and location where it was taken have been deliberately kept private due to the nature of the composition which is meant to provoke inquiry as to the story behind the photograph by reversing the normal portraiture mode to give clues as to the person’s identity without fully revealing it. The well fitted formal attire, the finely crafted leather guitar strap slung across the back, and the cowboy hat and bandana hint at a professional musician but the real meaning of Backstory in the context of this exhibit is that it is especially important to recognize that all of us have a backstory, including people who appear in court. Our backstories make us who we are and to achieve more acceptable outcomes it is necessary to have a better understanding of the individual and not simply judge each other based on our appearance.”

Lady in Waiting. “This colorful and dignified looking woman apparently texting on her phone while waiting all alone for a bus outside the Cork City Council building in Cork, Ireland is naturally spotlighted and seemingly dwarfed by the modern institutional building and its reflections behind her. It is a feeling I think many of us have when we interact with large institutions, including courthouses, where the formality of the structure reflects the importance society attaches to it, but that sense of grandeur can often overwhelm those who depend on the building and its occupants for necessary services.”

The Judge’s Dreams Come True

When the new courthouse was completed but not yet open, Judge Appel toured the new building, the thing he dreamed and advocated for decades. “I think they decided to let me have a look before I started pestering them to see it! It’s mind-boggling. It’s beautiful. They did such a fabulous job; the lighting, the spaces, it’s all remarkable. They’ve got the highest technology built into it, on par with anything in the state.” Judge Appel added, “I’d like to be there to hang some pieces of art. As it turns out, in the end, there’s tons of space for art.”