Church draws filmmaker to Niwot
December 15, 2016
When filmmaker Erika Volchan O’Conor was searching the internet for images of early Colorado, she saw a photo of the original Niwot United Brethren Church from the early 1900s, and she knew she had seen it in a sketch. The photograph had been sketched by Muriel Sibell Wolle, one of the four Colorado artists O’Conor featured in her film. The photo caused her to reach out to Rev. Pam Everhart, current pastor of the church, now known as the Niwot United Methodist Church after several mergers, and Kathy Koehler, president of the Niwot Historical Society.
O’Conor presented her film, Pioneers, subtitled Colorado Women Art Pioneers 1870-1970, at the church on Dec. 8 to an audience of over 25 people, who came out on a cold winter’s night.
The film features four pioneer women in Colorado – Helen Henderson Chain, an accomplished painter who never signed her work as a woman; Jean Wirt Sherwood, who came to Boulder and started Chautauqua; Muriel Sibell Wolle, who became famous for her work locating and sketching the mining towns of Colorado; and Eve Drewelowe, who showed her distinctive art in shows across the country from 1925 to 1987.
O’Conor began researching women in February, interviewing art experts and descendants of the women. She made the artists come alive by including actors portraying each of the characters, with remarkable likenesses. “I went into a costume store in Boulder, and immediately knew I had found Helen Chain – the resemblance was remarkable,” she said in describing the clerk who waited on her. “She had no acting experience, but she did a wonderful job. One of the actors works in the deli at Alfalfa’s, and another one is a friend of mine.”
She chose her subjects because, as she put it, “I liked the range that they covered, beginning before Colorado was a state.” Professor Kirk Ambrose, Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at CU had been researching the women, and after meeting with O’Conor, was able to get funding for the film. Ambrose was one of several experts interviewed in the film, and is also its executive producer.
Audience members were appreciative. Church member Sheryl Wisecup described it as “fabulous, very informative.” She continued, “It’s historical on so many levels, it’s not just art.”
Rev. Everhart appreciated the opportunity to host the film presentation, saying, “The content was so compelling.”
Longtime Niwot area resident Mary Ann Dowling said she saw the film described in the Courier, and decided to attend. “It was just inspiring on all levels,” she said. “It’s great to see the role Boulder had in art, and to hear the connection with this congregation.”
The film is shown continuously at the CU Art Museum exhibit: Pioneers: Women Artists in Boulder, through Feb. 4, 2017.