Art & Design
The Aspen Historical Society approach is anything but dull or dusty, stuffy or stale. With a mission “to actively preserve and passionately present” Aspen’s remarkable history, the society helps resuscitate the past to inform the present and the future. “We shun ‘don’t touch’ and find ways to engage and invite curiosity without sacrificing the important elements of protecting our collection,” says Georgia Hanson, Aspen Historical Society president and CEO.
The Society engages the public in a variety of ways, including managing the Independence and Ashcroft ghost towns, the Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum, and the Wheeler/Stallard Museum and archives, which house more than 24,000 photographs, 7,000 objects and 6,000 written pieces. They sponsor numerous guided and self-guided tours at the museums and ghost towns, along with special events including the upcoming traveling exhibit “Journey Stories.” Presented in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the exhibit explores four centuries of American travel, the role of innovation and transportation modes, and the search for freedom. In addition, the stories of Aspenites and how they arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley will be told.
The Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013, and will play host to a number of special events during the year. A summer Chautauqua will take place this summer, where Hanson promises surprise celebrity appearances. A longtime resident well versed in the town’s history, Hanson is quick to emphasize that there’s more to Aspen than celebrities and skiers. “While we sometimes lament the changes as the gentrification of the valley takes over, the Aspen spirit is still there,” Hanson says. “If we have a missing person or cancer or a broken leg, the community will drop everything to help. The spirit of Aspen is alive and well. We want to remember we’re a small town with fewer than 10,000 people. We have the capacity as a town to make things happen, so it’s easy to slip into visions of grandeur. But we keep our small town value system by choice.”
A Context for Living
Hanson underscores the importance of history as a priceless perspective. “History gives you context for living. It provides, one would hope, an understanding that the more things change the more they stay the same,” she says. “The same issues come up, but if you have the benefit of background, you ought to be able to make better decisions. History should be inspirational. I feel very strongly that history provides a sense of place and purpose and allows a community to go forward. We need the background to move forward and try to avoid the same consequences. ”
Hanson describes the attraction of this picturesque town nestled in the natural wonderlands of the Colorado Rockies, where people seek recreation, inspiration, and education. “I’m a skier, but that isn’t why I’m here. It’s the natural beauty, the freedom, and the fact that Aspen is so egalitarian: there’s no class system. You can go for year without hearing a horn honk. I’ve known people with PhDs pushing freight in order to be here. What compelled all of us to be here no matter what? That’s a conversation we have continually,” Hanson says.
Hanson praises the townspeople: “Aspen has fabulous characters. Everyone in Aspen is a character.” The Aspen Historical Society keeps alive some of the town’s most colorful characters. Yet Hanson says that despite a more diverse history, today’s popular misunderstanding of Aspen often includes at its core celebrities. “The basis of Aspen’s personality is a foundation of egalitarianism that doesn’t come across because of the People magazine issue,” she says “The concept of celebrity and the addition of monster homes also called starter castles or ‘log cabins on steroids’: that’s what the media portrays. But here in Aspen, historically and currently, people come together without requiring any credentials at all except for a big heart. That’s truly the Aspen attraction.”
- Colleen Smith
Aspen Historical Society
620 W. Bleeker St.
Aspen, CO 81611
Colleen Smith, a longtime contributor to Colorado Expression, is the author of the acclaimed novel Glass Halo and the gift book Laid-Back Skier by Friday Jones Publishing. She also writes regularly for The Denver Post.