A Boulder naturalist finds inspiration wherever the trail takes her
Rivers III by Charlotte Jorgensen
“I’m a total nature girl,” says Charlotte Jorgensen, a 68-year-old environmentalist who has kept 30 years of journals, recording the world around her in words and sketches. “It was nature that led me to art. My eye just naturally goes to the details when I’m hiking, and I see the lime-green lichen or find heart-shaped rocks.” After decades of leading hikes in Boulder County and Telluride and drawing in journals, in 2004, Jorgensen finally started putting her sketches onto different formats, using gouache, sumi ink, walnut ink, graphite and colored pencils.
Trading in her sketch books for large-scale canvases and artist papers, the Jorgensen of today is a bona fide artist, exhibiting at Telluride’s Ah Haa School for the Arts and selling her paintings through Mary Williams Fine Arts in Boulder. “I definitely had an unusual way of getting here,” she says. “My paintings are more like folk art, because I’m not classically trained. I’ve just been doing it because I love it.”
Great Blue Heron
Jorgensen might have found her career in the art world later in life, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less passionate about her subjects. “The natural world is my church. It’s where I find God,” she explains. “It feeds me in a way that nothing else does. Yes, human kindness and love also feed me, but when I hike with my black lab Angus, I just sometimes need to lie down on the ground and feel the earth under me.” After she gleans her inspiration, Jorgensen heads back to her studio, where she starts creating with mud, watercolors and collage materials to layer feeling, emotion and color into her paintings.
Born and raised in Florida, Jorgensen moved to Colorado in 1971, when an Outward Bound course changed her trajectory and she transferred to University of Colorado for her senior year. At first a literature major, she decided to focus on biology at CU to immerse herself further into the wild beauty of nature. After college, Jorgensen went back to school to study medicine and became a physician assistant in a Navajo clinic in New Mexico. It was there she started keeping naturalist diaries, with sketches, paintings and text. Those journals were her first art teachers, she says.
Jorgensen and her husband, Richard, divide their time between Boulder and Telluride, where, she says, her paintings often take a new direction. So the wandering continues.
“When I paint, I want to share my story with the world,” she says. “All of us want to be seen in life for who we are. And my paintings are who I am.”
Hold onto Each Other After months of saving articles about human suffering in Africa, the Middle East and around the world, the sharp sorrow Jorgensen experienced prompted her Shields series. “I kept playing with abstraction. I was drawing stone shapes, and they turned more triangular and longer and I realized they looked like ancient shields,” Jorgensen says. “I realized I was painting shields to offer protection and healing and strength to people in the world. They are for anyone, anywhere, who needs one.”
Gyrfalcon The Bird Eggs are from an early class Jorgensen took with Boulder artist Maryjo Koch, in which she learned how to paint birds’ nests and eggs, based on the artwork of natural-history illustrators. “I have a fascination with these permeable shells that are fragile yet strong,” she says. “And all of these characteristics are adaptations that help ensure the survival of new life within.”
Rivers III The Rivers series emerged after the 2014 Boulder floods, which severely damaged Jorgensen’s Boulder farm and house. “I painted that series to honor the little creek that roared. It was a healing thing for me,” she says. She also painted her River Stones series that year, after she found stones washed down from the mountains covering her hayfield and acres of their property. “I was feeling lost and uprooted, living in a guest house on a friend’s farm. I would come and walk through our field, where the river had left the stones. My sister said to rub mud on paper and paint our chickens, but instead I rubbed mud on paper and painted the rocks I had picked up.”