Recounting history through art


Phyllis Guerrieri to promote new book at library

Photo by
Will Shoemaker

Phyllis Guerrieri sprinted for the fence of the corral as an angry cow charged behind her. After losing one shoe and her hat, Guerrieri managed to escape the cow’s wrath and find safety atop the fence.

Guerrieri — a fourth generation rancher in the Gunnison Valley — was attempting to forge a match between a motherless calf and cow whose calf had recently passed. The mother, however, was not so fond of this idea.

“When at last my husband came to the rescue, I was still on the fence in tears, and the hungry calf was bawling too,” recalled Guerrieri.

In her new book, “Pure Joy,” Guerrieri documents the incident — and many other true tales — through watercolor painting. In collaboration with her daughter, Cara, Guerrieri created the book to tell her family’s history. Guerrieri’s paintings, accompanied by Cara’s words, dive into the ranching family’s history beginning in 1943 and spanning to present day.

For Guerrieri, the book is about expressing history through art. The 86-year-old artist wanted to provide future generations of her family a colorful window into the past.

“It has been a learning experience as well as a wonderful gift for the children,” Guerrieri said.

Yet, Guerrieri is not an experienced painter. The rancher picked up her first paintbrush at the age of 78. When a watercolor class at her church was looking for participants, Guerrieri signed up as a way to support the cause, yet never expected to discover a new passion.

“It’s very obvious that I’m an amateur, and yet, even amateurs can have fun with art,” she said.

After taking the introductory class, Guerrieri was captivated by the vibrant shades produced by watercolor. She continued to paint the stories of her past with no intention of ever publishing them. It was Cara who urged her mother to add words to the watercolors.

“It was difficult accepting the fact that my paintings were really worth something,” explained Guerrieri.

Over the subsequent two months, Guerrieri and her daughter compiled numerous illustrations and their unique stories into a book. While the artist never expected the publication to be a bestseller, she is pleasantly surprised by the community’s support.

While Guerrieri is not likely to publish another book, she continues to explore the world of watercolors and everything it has to offer.

“I’ve tried a little of everything,” said Guerrieri. “I’m still trying.”