Author M. John Fayhee in Telluride
M. John Fayhee may like dogs a lot, but he has occasionally felt a little like a canine owner-under-siege. I’ve felt that way, too. I recognize the type.
Fayhee, the voluble, irascible editor-and-resurrector of the iconic Mountain Gazette – and the author of numerous books, including Up at Altitude and Along the Colorado Trail – is in Telluride this weekend to promote his latest: Colorado Mountain Dogs, “a dog’s eye view of the backcountry, ski slopes and resort towns in the Colorado mountains” replete with 150 photos, stirring stories, and sidebars about naming and photographing dogs. He’ll discuss it Saturday at the Wilkinson Library.
Fayhee wrote the book not because he had some big epiphany about canines, but because of a conversation with his publisher. “I don’t want to cheapen the process, but I write books for a living,” he explained. Once you have finished one book, conversations naturally turn to your next, he said, “And somehow the words came out of my mouth that I had 2,500 photos.” The photos were of dogs, taken by Mountain Gazette’s readers and submitted for publication over a five-year period for the magazine’s annual “Mountain Dog”issue; Fayhee chose many of the best for his book. He has now embarked on a ten-mountain-town tour, and is coordinating each stop with a local rescue group (the Telluride Animal Foundation will join him at the Wilkinson). The plan is not only to sell books, but also to help dogs in need find good homes.
Fayhee endured quite the process finding his own mountain dog, and thereby hangs (as it were) a tale. In an essay on his website entitled “Little Dog,” he tells a tortured story of The Search: “It took me two years to even think of being open to bringing a new dog into my life,” he writes. “It does not make me feel good to say this, but I am pretty much convinced that each of us will likely share time on this plane of existence with but one true cosmic-level perro, and for me, that was a German Shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix named Cali,” the “best friend I will ever have. Cali was a near-perfect dog.”
Fayhee took a while to begin looking for a new dog in part because “I really wanted to make certain that I was not looking to replace the irreplaceable. I did not want to burden a dog with having to live up to Cali’s image. The analogy I used was that of poor Brian Griese playing quarterback for the Broncos after John Elway retired.” What Fayhee pictured was a puppy, “a blank slate,” “something that would eventually reach 50 to 60 pounds of stoutness running through the woods, crossing rivers and leading the way while we ski full blast down Mayflower Gulch. You know: a bona fide Mountain Dog.” Eventually, he adopted “Casey,” about twelve-weeks-old and “mostly Lab.” Or so he thought. “This dog is six to eight months old,” Casey’s new veterinarian pronounced, when Fayhee took her in for her first check-up. “And if she’s got a lick of Labrador in her, I’ll eat a stick. She looks to me like she’s mainly Cocker Spaniel and Beagle. That means she’s probably as big as she’s going to get.” (Fayhee’s reaction: “F**k! Not only did I not have a stereotypical mountain dog, I had something borderline foo-foo. Near-bouts a lap dog! Double f**k!”) The fact that Casey was twice as old did help explain her “sometimes-cowering, sometimes aloof, sometimes obstinate” disposition (no blank slate, “she must have come to us with far more psychic baggage than we had hoped”). On the other hand, the thought of returning a “living, drooling, constantly chewing” creature to a foster home “almost made me sick to my stomach.”
That was over three-and-a half years ago. I spoke with Fayhee early Tuesday evening as he was getting ready to do a book reading on the Front Range. Casey was there too, in the back of his car. “We still have our issues,” he said. “More than anything, Cali wondered what she could do for me. Casey wants to know what she can get away with.” Fayhee wasn’t complaining. “She’s her own dog,” he summed up. “I didn’t want Cali 2. I wanted something different.” He added wryly, “And I succeeded in dramatic fashion.”
As one who has made the transition from owning a Golden to a small terrier with a revolving list of requests, I can understand.
John Fayhee visits the Wilkinson Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
‘Western Futurism’ at Telluride Arts
I’m not the man they think I am at all.
– Bernie Taupin, “Rocket Man”
When artist Jimmy Descant lived in New Orleans, for 25 years he wore “vintage Western” attire right down to his snakeskin cowboy boots – channeling, perhaps, the part of the country he would move to in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Today, Descant is a resident of Salida, one of seven certified Arts Districts (along with Telluride, and Ridgway) in Colorado; his works are on display at the Stronghouse Gallery through the end of the month, part of an “artist exchange” taking place throughout the state.
Descant’s specialty is mixed-media assemblage in the form of rockets (he’s known as Rocket Man). His passion for creating the flying ships began when he picked up a vintage vacuum cleaner at a flea market in 1996. “It was a 1952 Sears Kenmore,” he recalled. “It looked like a rocket. Everything at that time, from toothbrushes to cars,” was built to look futuristic.
Descant began “deconstructing” vacuum cleaners and other objects from the 1920s-1960s, years in which “designers made things to last for 100 years, not two minutes,” to create vintage rocket ships, a “testament to the American ingenuity leading us into the future.” In his rocket ships, “there are no guns, bullets or bombs, implied or included,” he said. But lately, he’s become increasingly interested in Native Americans, and American history; and here, violence is not only implied, it can be the point of the work. In a series of pieces entitled “JFK as an Indian,” for example, Descant overlays photos his father took on the 1960 campaign trail with found “regalia” – bits of bone, forks, a piece of measuring-tape – to make the future president resemble an Indian chief. The energetic artistic assemblage, plus-political-commentary, suggests “what JFK’s ‘tribe’ did to the Native Americans, they also did to him.” Descant calls his genre Western Futurism, and says he uses these most recent works “for compassion and understanding.”
“Stop in [to the Stronghouse] and you’ll get an eyeful,” he said. “That little gallery is full up.”
Jimmy Descant’s Western Futurism exhibit is on display through June 30. Gallery hours are 12-6 p.m., or by appointment. For more on Descant’s work and inspirations, visit deluxerocketships.com.