The Byxbes in Estes Park

The Byxbes were among the automobile and bus travelers in the park, and a photo taken about 1923 shows the family going "over the top" early in the season.  Taken by Clatworthy, a well-known Denver photographer, it includes Ray, (Lyman's brother) at left leaning against the snowbank, Alice (his daughter) wearing a sombrero, Geneva ("Ma") Byxbe in the back seat and Roger Toll, the Park Superintendent standing on the snowbank at right. Byxbe did not identify himself, but is probably the passenger in the front seat. He also noted that the bus was a White Steamer, and that the snow on left was 23 feet, six inches deep.  A small watercolor also exists that be inscription by Byxbe, “Forget-me-nots above Fall River Pass, alt. 11810 - other small flower & moss were the only living things except black lichen June 14, 1926 10 a.m. first unofficial party over the top 11797 feet".

The Byxbes soon became regular summer visitors, Byxbe showing his work in area art exhibitions and selling it through gift shops. He was a worker and Estes Park was no mere summer vacation for him. Accordingly an article in the Estes Park Trail of May 16, 1930, Byxbe had sold 1200 Christmas cards the previous year and by mid-May, even though he had just arrived, he had ‘already finished 13 etchings and 5 woodcuts.”  To date none of his woodcuts have been found. He also catered to a demand for "cabin portraits", and was always happy to do an etching of a cabin for the o to use as notes or Christmas cards.

While establishing himself in Estes Park, Byxbe was not neglecting Nebraska. One of his aquatints, "Whispering Pine"…appeared in The Quarterly, a book or booklet published in Omaha. Mildred McFarland Lincoln sold Byxbe's prints so successfully that in 1934 he rewarded her with the aquatint "After Sundown”…inscribed on the back "1st Prize." From Byxbe's Omaha studio at 2574 Ellison Avenue a steady stream of etchings, aquatints and drypoints flowed.

Guy Caldwell's Lily Lake Art Exhibit was a summer home as well as an exhibition area for Byxbe during his early years in Estes Park. But times were tough in the thirties. One year, the story goes, "Ma" Byxbe drove their old car with Byxbe and their daughter to Estes Park. Behind the car was a trailer containing just two sacks of potatoes and an etching press. Byxbe quickly started up the press and displayed the etchings on wires strung up along the outside of the Calhoun Gift Shop. Later in the summer he converted a small store next to the gift shop into a gallery.

Byxbe did not drive -apparently he was much too interested in the scenery to be trusted at the wheel. The Byxbes had a 1928 Ford which "Ma" tried teach "Byx" to drive. The problem was that he'd look at the scenery instead of the road and wind up in the ditch. One day "Ma" told him to put the car in the garage. He did. Through the garage door - bringing to an end any effort to put him behind the wheel.  As far as "Ma" was concerned, she or Alice would do the driving from then on.

Another story concerning Byxbe and automobiles is a wonderful example of an artist manipulating his environment to create his art. When the Byxbes summered in Estes Park "Ma" would drive Byx out to sketch. The single-lane dirt roads had only an occasional passing spot. When Byx saw something he wanted to sketch, Ma would stop. Rock slides were common, so she would go back up the road with a flag to hold up traffic, telling the other motorists that "there's a little problem Up ahead. I'll come and tell you when it's OK", so that Byx could finish his sketch without being run over. The other motorists thought that it was just another rock slide and Byx or someone was clearing it.

Byxbe would often hike through the mountains making small sketches to use in developing prints.  One impression of "Sundance" has an inscription on the bottom "Made from Willow Park Ranger Station, my first night out on a 50-mile, 4-1/2 day afoot, sleeping bag, mess kit and all!"  Byxbe was a better artist than a woodsman, as he and a friend once got turned around and were lost for several days. This made national headlines, but probably wasn't the type of publicity he was interested in.

Byxbe didn't limit his etchings to scenes in and around Estes Park.  Sometime in the 1940's he and "Ma" visited Alice and her husband Rudy in San Francisco. Byxbe stopped and sketched the scenery in Yosemite and along the Pacific shore during the trip. He was so impressed with the park and ocean that when he returned to Estes Park he created twenty prints featuring California, the sea shore, surf and views of Yosemite and the Merced River.

The early 1940's were Byxbe's most successful years. He began the decade when his etching "Junipers" (catalog no.305) was chosen fo cover of the October 1940 edition of the International Journal of Religious Education.  In New York the Society of American Etchers sold his prints to enthusiastic collectors. In 1941 the Society chose his engraving "let ‘er Buck" as one of thirty prints for a show at the Grand Central Art Gallery.   The library of Congress purchased "let 'er Buck" and "Dawn" for their permanent collection, and both the Laramie National Monument Museum in Wyoming and, later that year, Scotts Bluff National Monument Oregon Trail Museum in Nebraska added Byxbe etchings to their collections.

The following year Byxbe placed two large and four miniature prints in the American Society of Etchers show at the National Academy of Design and the Miniature Print Society published an edition of two hundred prints of his drypoint "Aspen Grove."  In 1943 the first National Exhibition of Prints at the library of Congress accepted Byxbe's drypoint "Snow Blow," followed in 1944 by his "Dream Lake", and in 1946 by "Pike's Peak from the Ramparts Range". The latter year also saw Byxbe represented in a traveling art exhibit of everyday scenes mounted by the University of Nebraska.

Byxbe moved his print shop and gallery to several locations around Estes He had placed his work in gift shops in 1928, 1929 and 1930.  The gallery had started in an open air stand on Elkhorn.  It then moved to the Jay Building and at one time was in the Coolidge Block before relocating to 126 Elkhorn in 1951.  Later a print shop and studio was built behind the house on South St. Vrain Road. 

In the spring of 1944 he was working out of his home on South St. Vrain Road.  By the summer of 1945 he had rented a gallery fronting on Elkhorn, Estes Park's main street, with a press room in the back.  Coyt Hackett, one of Byxbe's young helpers from that time, recaptured the atmosphere of the workshop in a letter of July 21, 1990:  “When we worked at the house I was the only employee and I would bring my lunch, but it was often scrumptiously supplemented.  Byx had diabetes and was supposedly limited on what he could eat. On the other hand Mom loved to bake so there was many a morning that our labors over the presses were enriched by heavenly odors from Mom's kitchen.   Of course I knew I would be the beneficiary and Pop knew he wouldn't!  Her pecan pie was beyond belief. She would also share secrets with me - always put an egg yolk in the pie dough and the crust would be extra flaky. Of course Mom used to get mad at Byx and I if we goofed off too much which we frequently did. I was paid on a piece work basis and so when I didn't produce I didn't earn and that bothered Mom more than it did me. After they were downtown and I worked for them, a couple of times a day when Mom was otherwise occupied Pop would slip me a dollar with a wink and I would sneak out the back door, down the alley to Tighe's drugstore and bring back a couple of quarts of beer. This was, of course, a no-no with Byx's diabetes so they were sequestered under the press to be visited at propitious moments".

Byxbe also gave drawing lessons to Estes Park residents.  Coyt Hackett posed for his class in costume during the winter of 1943-1944 in addition to helping at the press.

In 1944 with World War II and gas rationing impacting the number of visitors to Estes Park, Byxbe attempted to find an additional market for

his art by producing prints for the Boulder Colorado firm Rome Creations owned by Richardson Rome. He and artist Fran Trucksess attended a Tuesday night open house in Boulder (fig. 54) on April 25th to announce their affiliation with Rome.  The relationship with Rome did not last however, due to a difference in philosophy between Byxbe and Rome as to what constituted an original print. Rome would set the title and his name in type below his prints and print them on a powered press, whereas Byxbe's prints were produced the traditional way. They were inked by hand, printed one at a time and signed and titled in pencil. Byxbe wouldn't lower his standards by allowing his etchings to be mass produced on a power press.

After World War II American intellectual and artistic tastes changed rapidly, and Byxbe's representational art, like that of many regional artists of the 1930's and 1940's, was no longer in fashion.  But Byxbe was sixty-five in 1951 and had no interest in changing styles. He was content to work in his gallery in Estes Park. His eclipse was by no means total. He continued teaching evening art classes and sold several etchings to be reproduced as magazine covers. In 1951 and 1956 he placed work in the Chicago Society of Etchers shows at the Findley Galleries in Chicago. The 1956 entry, "The First Snowfall" won third prize. The National Park Service continued its practice, begun in 1941, of presenting Byxbe etchings to prominent visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Other local institutions used his etchings as promotions for fund raising. He had resumed painting in oils sometime during the 1940's. He was selling paintings by other artists in the gallery and he decided that "If I can sell theirs I can sell mine".  Byxbe went to great lengths to appeal to tourists looking for an inexpensive artistic souvenir of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. An example is a small photographic print of one of his drawings hand colored with oil paints, matted and framed.

"Ma" Byxbe colored large photos with oil paints and he hired Estes Park women to hand color photographic prints of his drawings, especially the ones of flowers, to sell as inexpensive souvenirs of the Rocky Mountains and Estes Park.

Art from the Byxbe Gallery was shipped all over the world for tourists visiting Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sometime during 1958 Byxbe must have burned himself with etching acid, as a Christmas letter from a friend mentions this and expresses hope that he had recovered from the burns.  It appears that after this accident he concentrated on drypoints rather than etchings or aquatints, eliminating the need for acid and avoiding any chance of another accident.

During the late 1960's Byxbe apparently turned over much of the chore of printing for the gallery to his son-in-l0aw Rudy Anspauch. Rudy continued to print from the plates still in the shop, although the modified book or die press he used would preclude printing anything larger than small, approximately 3-1/2 x 5 inch plates. By 1963 Alice and Rudy were running the gallery while Byxbe was concentrating on painting to fill orders for oil paintings.

Robert L. Crump, 2002—

The Prints of Lyman Byxbe