The Ore House Art Collection Story

Today, over 30 original works by 16 local, regional and nationally acclaimed artists grace the walls. Watercolors, oil paintings, drawings in charcoal as well as pen and ink, and Native American weavings and baskets comprise the collection of westernthemed art.

The first art works to be traded (and one-third of the total collection) were watercolor and pen-and-ink drawings of area mines created on site by artist Jean Dreyer. Her son Ron was a regular customer at the Ore House and, over time, he traded nine of her drawings for Ore House meals. Many of these mining structures have given way to time and the elements, so Jean’s drawings represent an act of preservation and a look into the area’s mining history.


Since everyone needs to eat, word got out to artists that the Ore House was ‘artistfriendly’ and a venue to show their artwork in exchange for eating good food – and the collection began to grow.


John Grow had never painted a train before so he used photographic slides of source materials to layout the train mural, offering, “The train parts are all correct but not proportional…every brush stroke is based on something real.” 


In 1990, John was commissioned to paint a second mural that, according to him, would “capture the essence of Durango…a truth about the industrial West excluding the telephone and electrical wires.” So he set the mural’s scene on the street in downtown Durango, 1900, with the smelter belching steam in the background. The mural is focused around a miner showing a large gold nugget to a young girl. Also represented are a miner and his mule, a nod to the Ore House logo.


John included cultural icons of the West: John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Theodore Roosevelt, Ouray, and Tonto and the Lone Ranger. Too, the artist pictured himself among an array of family, friends, other artists and the founders of the Ore House, Beatle Abshagen & Jim Arias.


John researched extensively, using historical photographs and documents to add accuracy to architectural, technological and fashion details of the period. He used artistic license and imagination, however, in reconfiguring the downtown streets and building locations to serve the overall design, aesthetics and concept of the mural painting.


Throughout the mural are imaginative details such as the partial words “Ore House” reflecting in a second story window and a Columbine blossom, Colorado’s state flower, nestled behind the ear of the mule. These inclusions remind us that the painting is based upon but is not a historical scene.


In 1991, artist Jake Kelly painted a portrait of Joe Hotter, from the well-established Durango ranching family. Jake recalled, “I had an A-frame up by Purgatory ski resort and Joe Hotter’s ranch was right across the highway. Joe used to go out and whistle for his quarter horses every morning, so I got to know him moderately well…he represented the perfect cowboy to me.” 


The Ore House catered a number of gatherings of the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA), an exclusive organization whose purpose is “to authentically preserve and perpetuate the culture of western life in Fine Art.”


It is only fitting that Joe Beeler’s painted skull with all those famous artist signers embodying all that is iconic and beloved about the West, welcomes every visitor as they enter the Ore House today.


From John Grow’s whimsical period portrayal of historic downtown Durango and Jean Dreyer’s acts of preservation in pen-and-ink to paintings, watercolors, drawings and weavings, the Ore House art collection offers unique views on western life and something for just about everyone’s taste. So take some time to browse the walls, actually or virtually, and enjoy the visual feast!