|On Wednesday this week, I found myself around the back of the Fred Harman Museum in the little office stacked high with books and papers, talking with Fred Harman, Jr., and his wife, Norma, about their plans for the coming season. |
I was somewhat surprised when Norma said, “Once we lost Terri, we weren’t even going to open this year..." The national and local economic troubles have been especially hard, it seems, on the non-profit sector — museums, theaters, social services — and the Harman Museum has not been immune to those economic stresses. Continued...
Fred Harman, Sr.—an artist in the genre of Charles Russell and Frederick Remington—ranks among the country’s foremost painters of the American West. He was the creator of the world-famous cartoon strip Red Ryder & Little Beaver. One of Pagosa’s early homesteaders, Fred Harman was also an established sculptor and illustrator, as well as a great humanitarian. He passed away in 1982.
Fred & Norma Harman, curators of the Fred Harman Art Museum in Harman Park.
The Fred Harman Museum features the artist’s studio and a collection of his original paintings, as well as Red Ryder & Little Beaver comic strips, rodeo, movie, and western memorabilia, and Native American art.
Fred, Jr., in his familiar story-telling mode, filled me in on some of his own history. The epic of this octogenarian would fill several books. Fred grew up and worked on ranches here in Pagosa. Through a long and winding path, he found his way into broadcasting in the early days of television. After a short stint as a stringer for ABC Sports, Fred moved to CBS in New York City and spent the next forty years climbing his way up the company ladder to Director of Broadcast Operations for the network, working on shows like 60 Minutes, The Jackie Gleason Show and Bride & Groom.
Fred retired from CBS and returned to Pagosa to care for his ailing mother and took up ranching again. Concern about the future of his dad’s art collection had led Fred and his father to form a nonprofit museum in 1979. In 1982 he became serious about the museum and began to publicize it. Families began visiting, and the numbers grew, with most coming from the bordering states.
“They would see the sign on the highway,” Norma recalled. “The signature 'Fred Harman' would ring a bell, and they’d remember the name.” Continued...
Fred and Norma recounted some of the visitors from all over the US and abroad — places like England, Iceland, Japan, Germany, and France. Fred described how Colorado’s former Governor Romer once commented (unsolicited) that “Fred Harman brought in more people to the state of Colorado than any other single individual.”
And more people started coming because of that.
Now in 2009 and with this economy, the Harmans are not sure what level of visitors to expect for the coming tourism season. They had grand plans originally, based on hoped-for sales in the adjacent Harman Park development, but the economy and low sales has “put a big crimp in that idea,” said Fred.
“A lot of plans are now in a holding pattern.”
“Last winter we had to let Terri Andersen go because we just couldn’t pay her. We didn’t have enough revenue coming in,” Norma added sadly. Terri had been helping Fred with office work and with his emergency communications management work. Terri and her husband Bruce—not finding other work here in Pagosa—have moved to Kanab, Utah.
So, with no paid museum manager, Fred is once again administering the place — something he had done for 27 years. Fred is now 82 and Norma is 76. It was obvious they are feeling the need to slow down.
“There comes a time when you can’t do so much anymore. So that’s why we’re in a holding pattern right now,” asserted Norma.
Where in the past the museum has been open year round, seven days a week, this year the schedule is Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm, with Saturdays by appointment only. Sundays are closed to the public, while the building hosts services for the Trinity Anglican Church, which broke ground in Harman Park just last week.
Fred explained that the Board of Directors for the Fred Harman Museum, headed by Margie Long, is planning the continuation of museum operations. The nine members have said they will all pitch in. So little by little, things are coming together. A Board meeting next month will consider alternatives to increase awareness of the museum and to preserve the heritage of this valuable cultural asset in Pagosa.
Restoration of some of the historical buildings on the museum grounds is planned. Tourists will be able read about the history of each on the outside, then enter the buildings and view displays furnished by Fred and Norma’s plentiful attic.
The Fred Harman Museum will again feature dinner theater productions from the Springs Theatre Company in a 40’ x 60’ tent during the months of June, July, and August. The public may also rent the tent for specialized activities like weddings and parties with catering.
“We will open with the help of our docents,” Norma emphasized, and explained that the museum relies on a staff of ten or so loyal and dedicated volunteers. A motto on Fred’s administrative binder read, “Volunteers are unpaid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”
So fortunately for local and visiting art fans, the Fred Harman Museum will open for the season on Monday, May 4. The couple told me they’ve already had a number out-of-towners, stopping throughout the month of April to see when they would open—a favorable omen, perhaps, for the coming season.
The FRED HARMAN ART MUSEUM is located at 85 Harman Park Drive, Pagosa Springs, Colorado 81147, next to Wells Fargo Bank in the eastbound lane of Highway 160. You can reach them by phone at 970-731-5785 or at their website.