A Love for Reinventing the Old
Gayle Waterman's unique art, renovated 19th-century barn, and approach to life all speak to her appreciation for the history of things
In the heart of Aspen Valley, Colorado, lives artist Gayle Waterman, whose unique photography, renovated 19th-century barn, and passionate approach to life all speak to her inexplicable appreciation for the endurance and history of things.
As a resident artist of Aspen Valley, Waterman specializes in macro photography—the art of capturing close-up stills of small subjects and producing larger-than-life print images. She usually is drawn to old, weathered, and faded objects, with wear and tear and cracks in the paint.
“Each piece of my art has a story,” Waterman says. “It’s an appreciation for the piece and whoever made it, loved it, and cared for it throughout the years.”
Portrait: David Marlow
Often her photographs focus on a small (usually two-inch-wide) section of furniture or multiple layers of peeling paint, showcasing a variety of textures and colors. “I keep looking within myself, wondering why I’m so intrigued by this concept,” she says. “I’m particularly intrigued with cracks, because I think they represent the things that occur in life that add character to us.”
"Azul" (subject: painted colonial doors in Gayle's barn)
A PERSONAL HISTORY
Before Waterman discovered her artistic talents in photography, she and her husband, a craftsman, artisan, and woodworker, were in the business of preserving barns and barn timbers. In the mid-90s, Waterman and her husband found a barn in Vermont, built in 1800 by farmer and timber framer Archibald Mills. After relocating the authentic timber frame barn to Colorado, the couple served as their own general contractors, transforming the barn into their dream home.
The barn's exterior (photo: David Marlow)
The process took about eight years, since they both were operating other businesses at the time. “There’s a lot of detail in the home, and detail takes time,” she says. “Throughout the process, we learned a lot about the industry together. We were some of the first people who had access to premium reclaimed materials in the Aspen Valley.”
The authentic timber framing (photo: David Marlow)
Appreciating the old was a common theme in their marriage; the duo also owned an antique store, which came in handy when Waterman was ready to decorate the interior. The details of the home are consistent with the time period in which the barn was built.
“It took a lot of time for the original craftsman to make this barn,” says Waterman, “and we felt it required the same level of detail and time to restore it to what we see today.” That means original plaster on the walls, hand-forged iron, and handmade light fixtures typical of what would’ve been seen in a home of that era.
An era-appropriate-style chandelier hangs over the dining table (photo: David Marlow)
The American rustic interiors of the barn's great room (photo: David Marlow)
At the time of renovation, a European look was popular in the Valley, but with an American barn, she took a different approach. And although Waterman has a personal affinity for clean and contemporary design, she is very pleased with the end result, which she says is an “eclectic mix of nodding to the West, appreciating the barn’s eastern origins, displaying antiques, and trying to create a comfortable home.”
THE PATH TO PHOTOGRAPHY
When her husband passed away in 2008, Waterman longed to do something that paid homage to how the couple had spent their time together, appreciating the old—a way to find beauty in the wear of her own life. But she wanted to add her own twist—and taste. “I have always loved contemporary and modern design, so I looked for a way to combine old and new, to honor what we had done together.”
So what did Gayle turn to? She looked no further than her beautiful restored barn for inspiration.
"Grand Master's Garden" (subject: wooden farm carrier)
Waterman’s husband had been a photographer early in his life and career, and first introduced her to a macro lens. “One day I was just observing a barn implement—a wooden carrier [pictured above] I have propped up against the wall in the master bedroom,” she says. “I wondered if I could capture the essence of the piece using a macro lens with digital photography—and if it would look like abstract art.”
She liked what she saw. “I got excited because the image took the antique out of the context of what it was, and yet I was recording something that was old and finding new value and new life in it.”
"Mabel's Watercolor" (subject: American primitive keepsake box made for someone named Mabel)
Waterman was hooked, subsequently taking her lens to an object whenever she sees intriguing patterns, many times on or around her barn’s property. “This art has met a lot of my needs,” she explains. “One of those needs is appreciation for things that are not always obvious or we don’t know are there—to realize that there’s beauty in everything around us if we look deeply and take time to notice it. My artwork is an extrapolation and interpretation of that idea.” You can see more of Gayle Waterman's artwork in the slideshow below.
BARN DESIGN DETAILS
CRAFTSMEN Sam Gonzalez, The Gonzalez Tradition, El Jebel, CO; Ray Seelbinder, Carbondale, CO; Ray Ives, Colorado; Ron Shamblin, Washington; Tim Murphy, Delta, CO BLACKSMITHS Steve Lock, Flying Dog Forge, Carbondale, CO; Will Perry, Carbondale, CO; Brent Curtis, Brent Curtis Metalsmithing, LLC, Carbondale, CO OTHERS Period Lighting: Authentic Designs, Vermont; Kern Plastering, Avon, CO; Fred Johnson, Johnson Painting, Carbondale, CO