Remarks as Delivered — Bennet Honors John Fielder At A History Colorado Event in February 2023
Thank you, it is wonderful to be with all of you tonight. Dawn, Luis and Tamara. Thanks for bringing us together in this beautiful, beautiful place. And John, there’s so much that we have to thank you for, your photos — I tried to put an adjective in front of photos and I couldn’t think of that adjective the word photos actually needed when it’s John Fielder’s photos. Your powerful writing and advocacy, and not least important, your extraordinary donation to this museum and, and to Colorado.
But tonight, I want to thank you for something else. If you walk into my office here in Denver, one of the first things you’ll notice is John’s photo of Hallett Peak, which our team received as an award for our work with countless Coloradans who led this effort to protect Rocky Mountain National Park.
If you visit my own office, though, in Washington, D.C., my personal office, there are four pieces of art that are hanging there. One is a door from Mali, that was used in a school for children to learn agricultural terms that they can understand as future farmers in their communities. One is an oil painting, weirdly, of cossacks on horseback, contesting a terrain that we now know of as Ukraine, a place that is still contested all these years later. And the other two are photos by John Fielder. I picked them out myself and I paid for them myself. Neither is an iconic picture of a mountain landscape. No one here would recognize the images from John’s collection.
One is of a lone sunburnt farmhouse deep in the San Luis Valley. For me, it evokes the immigrants who once settled the area, scratching out a living in a hard country where you count every single drop of rain and you spend every day subject to the vagaries of weather. And you started when the farmhouse was built suffering those vagaries of weather, and today, climate change, and the people that are in that valley are doing the same thing today. In the background, there are thunderclouds that are gathering, filled with potential.
And the second photo is a photo also of thunderstorms, but this time, thunderstorms on the eastern plains of Colorado that captured the spare and I think spectacular beauty of the region. A place that lots of Coloradans never get a chance to go.
John’s been to all 64 counties in Colorado. He’s been to every rural county in the eastern plains more than once. Two-thirds of John’s photo focuses on the clouds sky which appear, at once, beautiful and menacing. I bought the photo, again, because of the potential energy that you can see in the clouds as a thunderstorm is coming across the eastern plains and then also the reminder of the blessing of rain, even when it comes in a format or in an amount that can be hard for farmers.
For me, these photos testified to John’s power and sensibility as a photographer and as an artist. Even as John has taught Colorado’s history to all of us, following Jackson’s images with his own, his perspective always reminds us to treasure what is around us in his beloved Colorado.
Perhaps most of all, as has been mentioned, John’s work testifies to the importance of protecting our public lands, the bedrock of Colorado’s economy and our way of life. And in the end, I think John’s photos are not only works of art, but calls to action, to protect our iconic landscapes; to answer the threat of climate change and invest in our forests, waterways, and wild places; to pass bills like the CORE Act to expand protections for areas like the Continental Divide which John has spent years photographing and fighting to preserve; and to turn over stronger legacy of public lands to the next generation so they can enjoy the same opportunities for adventure, escape, and wonder that we had — that John has.
And my hope is that someday when our kids and grandkids come to this museum and see John’s photos on display, they’ll look at them with pride. Not sadness or nostalgia. Because we will have answered his call, his important call, and done our part to honor his vision for our state.