Mountainfilm: Artist-in-Residence Installs Mural on Main Street

Mountainfilm: Artist-in-Residence Installs Mural on Main Street

Please scroll down to the bottom of this story to watch the time-lapse video of Telluride’s new mural, thanks to Mountainfilm and its artist-in-residence, Chip Thomas, a doctor, activist and street artist from Navajo reservation.

Last week, the wall was a bare expanse of concrete on the west 200 block of Telluride’s Main Street.

Chip Thomas, aka jetsonorama, (in the red hat) puts the finishing touches on his main street mural on Sunday. [Photo by Jim Hurst]

Chip Thomas, aka jetsonorama, (in the red hat) puts the finishing touches on his main street mural on Sunday. [Photo by Jim Hurst]

Over the weekend, thanks to artist Chip Thomas and a small brigade of volunteers, it was transformed into a beautiful and bold piece of street art that has drawn onlookers, stirred up conversation, inspired many a social media posts, and provoked people to think.

Telluride Mountainfilm is thrilled it was able to bring Thomas and his vision to town, and hopes this installation is the beginning of longer conversation about public art in Telluride.

“We’re excited to celebrate Chip Thomas and his creativity,” said Executive Director Sage Martin. “We look at this as an opportunity to share important art and activism with the Telluride community.”

Thomas moved to the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona in 1987 to become a full-time doctor. He didn’t expect to stay long, but soon fell in love with the people and stark desert landscapes.

After decades of photographing the community, he was inspired by a Brazilian street artist to move his work outside of galleries and, under the name “jetsonorama,” began installing images onto water towers, abandoned buildings, and fences scattered around the reservation.

Since then, Thomas has made the desert his canvas with beautiful portraits of Native people and activist statements. As word has gotten out about his remarkable work, his art has spread far beyond Arizona. Moved by his bold work, the Mountainfilm programming team invited Thomas to do a special artist-in-residence project in town.

“Our intention was to install a piece of art that would say something about the mountains and about the world we live in. Chip took that to a level that I never anticipated,” Festival Director David Holbrooke said. “Understanding him and his work as a doctor on the reservation helps me understand his artwork, which shows deep empathy and brilliant artistic vision.”

The Festival worked with the town of Telluride and building owners to secure permission and permits, and Thomas arrived on May 12 to begin work on the piece.

Using borrowed ladders, a few buckets of paint and volunteer labor, Thomas orchestrated the weekend installation on May 13-15, which entailed painting the wall a rich shade of red before pasting printed paper panels onto the surface and doing detail work. The result is at once loud and intimate, challenging and imbued with love.


Thomas’s mural features a portrait of activist couple Klee and Princess Bennally touching foreheads lovingly. Their mouths are covered by bandanas and painted across their foreheads are the words “what we do to the mountain we do to ourselves.”

The image was originally taken as part of an effort by Najavo and Hopi tribes to stop officials from using reclaimed waste waster on the Snowbowl ski resort in Northern Arizona. (Snowbowl is in the San Francisco Peaks, which several tribes hold as sacred.)

In Telluride, the installation of the image provoked all kinds of interest, with passersby stopping to snap pictures, ask Thomas questions, compliment the mural and even voice their dismay.

Which plays right into one of Mountainfilm’s goals: To make people think.

Thomas said it was an honor for him. He was grateful to the volunteers who turned up, noting that it would have taken days longer had it not been for all the helping hands.

“I’ve been going to Telluride since I moved to northern Arizona in 1987 and it’s always been a special place to me. I find it incredibly beautiful,” he said. “But I’ve never gotten to interact with local people in that way. It was really nice to get to spend some quality time with the people from the community, and such an honor to work with the community in that environment.”

Chip Thomas will return to Telluride on May 28 for Mountainfilm. The Telluride Town Council will discuss the mural at its meeting on Tuesday, May 31. Check the town’s website close to the date for agenda details.

Watch the video here:

About Mountainfilm: Established in 1979, Mountainfilm is dedicated to educating, inspiring and motivating audiences about environments, cultures, issues and adventures. Working at the nexus of filmmaking and action, its flagship program is the legendary Telluride Mountainfilm festival, a one-of-a-kind combination of films, conversations and inspiration. Mountainfilm also reaches audiences year-round through its worldwide tour and Mountainfilm for Students, an educational outreach initiative for youth. Mountainfilm has the power to change lives. To learn more, visit

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