ALAMOSA — Kathy Park’s and Henry Woolbert’s life journeys have taken them literally from coast to coast, but the place that feels most like home is in between — in the San Luis Valley.
Honing and sharing their artistic talents from the Mojave Desert to prisons in California, the two are now settled in the Alamosa area where they are offering classes in art and Aikido and Kathy is teaching at Adams State University.
“This place feels like home to us,” Henry said, and Kathy added, “I don’t think we are going to move again.”
Mates meant to be
Both were born in Washington, D.C., but did not meet each other until attending a party in Denver in the 1980’s.
Henry’s mother had a store in Clarksdale, Mississippi that sold art supplies, gifts, books and office supplies, and Henry began working there while he was in junior high school and eventually took over and managed the art supply department and began teaching art classes.
He helped manage the store until 1974 when he realized he needed to move on “to find out who I was” and “find my mate.”
His mother’s sister was living in Denver, so he moved out West and began working at arts and crafts stores in the Denver area. He also worked in picture framing and still does his own matting and framing.
In 1981 Henry met a woman who wanted to introduce him to Kathy, an Aikido instructor and artist.
Henry told his friend to bring Kathy to a summer solstice party at a house he was sharing with four other guys.
“Kathy was really buffed out from training Aikido. I was a bit intimidated when I saw her, and shy,” Henry recalled, “but I was fascinated.”
She expressed interest in seeing his artwork, which at the time was “feathers and flowers and bees,” and he looked at her art portfolio, which impressed him as much as her physique.
“I was so awestruck I couldn’t really speak,” he recalled. “I finally got the courage up to say ‘God, Kathy, your work is beautiful’.”
Kathy recalled that as she got into the car to leave with her friend, she said, “Have you ever had the feeling that you just met your mate?”
That was 1982, “and here we are,” Kathy said.
Carved from the desert
Where Kathy had been before moving to Colorado had been the Mojave Desert in a town of 40 people, Darwin, California, where she was an apprentice to sculptor Gordon Newell.
“He showed me how to carve,” she said.
She recalled one time working with a piece of stone and carving it too aggressively so it broke. Newell came by and said, “Kathy, some of my best pieces have come from broken work.” Then he walked away.
“It was an interesting style of teaching,” Kathy recalled.
“I lived in my Volkswagen bus in Gordon’s driveway,” she recalled. “There was just nothing there, wild burros, jackrabbits and rattlesnakes and a few crazy people and a lot of stone to carve. I carved and walked and painted, probably had a shot of vodka now and then.”
She apprenticed with Newell for 15 years. Before that time she had been involved in the Bay area with body work school and had earned her first degree black belt in Aikido.
She began feeling drawn to the Boulder area and believed it was there she would meet her mate.
“I had an incredibly long list of requirements for a mate. I figured it would be an Aikido person. None of that ended up being important, none of it.”
Henry added, “We were on parallel tracks.” He also felt drawn to Boulder to find a mate.
Although the two did not meet in Boulder, if Kathy had not moved to Boulder she would not have met Linda McCormick who knew Henry and took Kathy to Henry’s party.
Lifetime partnership forged
On their honeymoon, Kathy took Henry to meet Newell in Darwin.
“We were sketching and painting,” Kathy said. “We would go on long walks, see a flower and sit down and paint the flower. Henry turns to me and says ‘let’s move here,’ which is the last thing I thought he would say. I had that secret wish he would.”
The couple lived in Darwin for two years in a tin shack they rented for $50 a month. It had hot and cold water but not at the right places, and they could lie in bed at night and look up at the sky through holes in the roof.
“It was a good two years,” Kathy said.
Henry added, “It forged the marriage.”
They then got jobs at a community college in Ridgecrest, California.
Henry decided to get his BFA in painting from the California College of Arts and Crafts. Kathy was involved in body work and Aikido.
Not city people, the couple then moved to Healdsburg in the northern Sonoma countryside in California. It was there that Kathy met someone who encouraged her to teach stress management workshops for long-term inmates in the federal women’s prison in Pleasanton.
Most of her students had prison sentences of 20 years or more.
“They were motivated to extract as much meaning out of it as was humanly possible,” Kathy recalled. “They were interested in holistic health, interested in meditation, interested in yoga, things they could do themselves to reduce their stress.”
The two workshops stretched into four years of volunteering in the women’s prison, with Henry also teaching art.
‘The women taught us both so much about freedom and honesty,” Henry said.
Kathy said it is ironic that coming back full circle now as a teacher with the extended studies program at Adams State, many of her students are incarcerated.
“They are great students … highly motivated.”
She said her students are very grateful for Adams State whose program is one of the few in the nation and is top of the line. They can now get out of prison with some skills. Henry tutors at TSJC.
Long way home
Before moving to their current residence just outside of Alamosa the couple lived in Jaroso for 19 years. For a while they made their living from their art and were part of the annual Rio Costilla Studio Tour.
Kathy then decided to go back to school after having been out for more than 30 years and in 2003 was accepted at Adams State and graduated four years later with a 4.0 grade point average. She went on to complete graduate school.
The couple briefly moved to a horse ranch outside of Dolores to help a cousin run the ranch, but it was not economically viable.
Coming back to Alamosa to teach in the summer, Kathy would run into many people she knew and would feel so welcome here. She called Henry and said, “What are we doing? Alamosa is our community.”
After making the decision to move back to the Valley they were able to find a place for their home, horse and studio just north of the KOA outside of Alamosa.
Kathy said sometimes “you have to take the long way around,” and after moving three times in 18 months — from Jaroso to Dolores to Alamosa — they found their way home.
They converted the barn into their studio and dojo and built a greenhouse where they could garden year round.
Kathy and Henry are now passing on their artistic skills to others.
“I’ve been teaching for over 45 years,” Henry said. “I feel it’s really important to continue to pass on some of what I know to other people interested in how to draw, learning how to paint, learning how to make masks and express their creativity.”
Henry and Kathy welcome students who never thought they had artistic talent as well as those who are more advanced in their art skills.
Henry has taught in a variety of settings from colleges and community centers to prisons, jails and senior centers.
“Teaching is a passion of mine. I love it,” Henry said. He enjoys helping his students explore their creativity and stretch their imaginations, “learning different ways of seeing their environment.”
In addition to scheduled classes, Henry offers private lessons.
Henry is a multimedia artist who will be teaching a class on mask making with recycled materials on Friday evenings beginning February 9. He and Kathy cooperate on the masks.
“Cooperation is a big part of what we do,” Henry said.
Just as they collaborate in their art, they also work together in the Aikido classes. Kathy is the instructor, and Henry says, “I am her senior student. She throws me around.”
Kathy teaches Aikido on Saturday mornings. She is also a versatile artist whose work includes sculptures and paintings. She is also an author working on her third book, which is about her 40 years experience in Aikido. “Aikido Off the Matt,” will be available in August. Her previous books were “Seeing Into Stone” and “Coyote Points the Way.”
In addition to mask-making classes, Henry will begin “Wading into Watercolors” this Saturday, Feb. 3. (See adjoining story for information.)
Kathy also feels strongly about passing on her knowledge. She said with both of them in their 60’s now, “we just feel kind of a pressure — it’s a good pressure but a pressure — to pass on what we know.”
She said she is amazed looking back at her life and seeing how things came together, “amazing things life has just given us, and we have said ‘yes’ to a lot of it.”
For more information contact Kathy at 719-480-9813 or 589-2897.