photos by Libby James
Annabel was finishing up a paint job when there was a minor explosion resulting in dark brown paint dripping down the side of the counter top and onto the floor.
She began to wipe it up when Dan looked over and said, “ Wait a minute. That looks good. Let’s leave it.”
And there it remains to this day, along with another dribble of blue, welcome aspects of the expansive two story studio artists Dan and Annabel share in the village of Bellvue north and west of Fort Collins.
The pair, so obviously two of a kind, live and work together, and following a honeymoon in India, just spent their first Christmas as a married couple.
In their short time in Bellvue, the unusual fence they built in hopes of slowing down traffic travelling along County Road 23 has become a local landmark. If it had not been for their fen constructed of huge round logs interspersed with kindling-size sticks, I would not have had the pleasure of meeting the couple. A friend let me know about the fence and suggested I might do well to check it out.
But she did not mention the enormous shoe resting on a truck bed in their front yard or the old train car converted into funky sleeping quarters for visitors, the gnomes in the garden or the fact that Annabel and Dan are the founders of the Colorado Shoe School.
And there is no way for this friend to know the story behind these refugees from the world of circus performing, costume design, and entertaining which included juggling and stiltwalking.
Dan is a Denver native who graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in art focused on sculpture and printmaking. Along with his brother, he formed a company that entertained at corporate parties, and in parades. Dan also worked for New Belgium Brewery promoting their Tour De Fat event and sustainability in 15 cities across the country.
He met Annabel, who trained as a dancer, at a corporate Christmas party. At the time, she had her own stiltwalking business and was also working with Cirque du Soleil in costume design flying all over the place in charge of the care and maintenance of shoes for the famous dance company.
Both of them were ready to leave the entertainment industry and were looking for new challenges. Three years ago, Dan found the house in Bellvue and it seemed a perfect fit. He bought it and set to work building their large multi-use studio using any scrap of lumber or materials he could find.
On a visit to New Zealand to see Annabel’s parents, the pair participated in a five-day workshop on shoemaking, and they were hooked.
“Everyone wears shoes,” Dan says. It seemed to both of them that there just might be enough interest in old-fashioned shoemaking to establish a business.
“It’s not just about making shoes,” Annabel says. “It’s about having fun. It’s playtime. It’s a chance to be wild and crazy, if that is what you choose.”
The Colorado She School offers one, two and five-day workshops conducted in the spacious second-floor studio, flooded with light and filled with fascinating artifacts such as the Singer treadle sewing machine that belonged to Dan’s great grandfather, a shoemaker in Chicago. It still works and Dan uses it.
Participants who come from a distance are welcome to stay in the old train car Dan bought from a neighbor who found it in Nebraska. Dan converted it into sleeping quarters complete with bathroom and kitchen area, filled with antiques and open to the sky during the warm weather.
Dan, who has always been a builder of things, has an impressive array of tools and equipment in the lower level of the studio. You get the sense that he can build anything, more often than not out of scraps and leftovers. Nothing goes to waste in this place.
Dan and annabel take pride in showing me a pair of shoes, the surface made from a paint-splattered drop cloth – funky and comfy-looking—honest!
Anyone who is interested in investigating the opportunity to take a little time off and emerge with a self-designed pair of shoes and a new outlook for 2020 is welcome to get in touch with Annabel and Dan: write to them at: Annabel@coloradoshoeschool.com
As we parted Dan said, “I feel as if you have heard only half our story.” I felt the same. You can learn more by watching the PBS show, Arts District on January 24 or seeking out the U Tube: “”Living big in a tiny house.” They have also done a radio spot for KUNC.