On Meeting Steve Quiller, the artist, man and friend of my grandfather

I’d never met the famed watercolor artist Steve Quiller before yesterday, but over the past 15 or more years, I’ve heard the name often from my late grandfather, Andy Sheptak.

Grandpa would always talk about “his friend Steve.”  Knowing grandpa, we’d all kind of “yeah right” and listen to his stories.  Grandpa was always telling stories so some times it was hard to know which ones were, well, in lack of a better term, believable.  That’s not to say he exaggerated.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.  It just seemed like there was so much adventure it hardly seemed possible that he could have done all that he did.  But that’s what made Grandpa’s life so rich and ultimately what has had some of the most profound impacts on me.

Each year, Grandpa would spend a portion of the year here in Creede, CO.  It was an annual art pilgrimage.  In October 2008, Grandpa died.

When Grandpa died, I called Steve’s Gallery and we talked.  He couldn’t make the funeral.  But that’s okay.

So here I am today.  The 20th Annual Taste of Creede is about to begin.  They’ve closed off Main Street and are setting up tents as I sit inside The Old Firehouse Restaurant.

Yesterday, I walked across the street to the Quiller Gallery and was greeted by Steve’s wife, Marta.  What a sweet lady.  And as I walked into the gallery of familiar forms of art, sitting on one of two brown leather sofas, with smooth tunes playing to add to the ambiance, was my Grandpa’s friend Steve.

With a firm hand shake and the comfort of and how elbow embrace, Steve and I now were friends.

We sat down on the sofas and began to talk about Grandpa.  Steve misses him.  It’s no secret that I have these past two/three years.

We talked about his travels as a painter.  Grandpa used to stay in an apartment at the back of the Quiller Gallery when he came to visit.  I didn’t go back there.  Didn’t ask and didn’t really think to do so.  Some times it’s just better to leave things in the past untouched.

We talked about Yosemite.  As you know, I’ve not made my annual pilgrimage there yet in 2010.  Steve goes every other year and holds a workshop there in the Valley.  He says there are usually about 150 people who sign up for a Yosemite workshop.

It was a nice conversation.  Toward the end we began to talk about social media.  Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.  As you know, unlike Steve, when I put my photos up, I just load them up.  Like a true business man he was immediately asking how I make money off my photos if I just give them away.   That’s a good question, and likely one that needs changing.

As we ended the conversation, he invited me to an event at the Mermaid Cafe where he and another of Grandpa’s friends, Larry Basky were presenting on printing, prior to the opening of the 10th Annual National Small Print Show, also held here in Creede.  In the photo, that’s Steve on the left and Larry on the right. 

From their presentation and then walking through the show twice last night, I learned there’s a lot more to printing than I could ever have imagined.  I’m not sure I still understand the difference between a monotype and a monoprint, but I at least have an idea.

But I’m here in Creede, CO with my mom.  She’s surprising one of her brothers who doesn’t know we’re here.  And so Grandpa’s legacy goes on.  Today, almost three years after his passing, there are three of us here to talk about who he was, how he was, and his influence upon us all.  And I have a new friend, Steve.

This is an image of the tree line from the new County Road 510 Bridge near Marquette, Michigan.


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Donald J. Claxton | The Timberlander, a selfie from camping for 13 weeks in 2022 on the Claxton family land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northwest of Marquette.

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