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Ex-businessman sculpts new career in the arts

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Co-founded Red Roofs chain

By Sue Coyle

Sopris Sun Correspondent

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Carbondale artist Mark Yale Harris is living proof that it is never too late to follow your dreams. His resume lists more than 220 solo, museum and international exhibitions featuring his sculptures. In the past 10 years, his work has also been featured in 85 publications as well as in three books. Most recently, his sculptures have been exhibited at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; the Red Brick Center for the Arts in Aspen; and the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. Such a large body of work might suggest a lifetime of creating art, but that has not been the case for Harris. It’s true that he had a lifelong passion for art, but the road to fulfilling that passion took many turns.

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Born in Buffalo, New York, Harris displayed a talent for, and interest in, artistic endeavors. As a young student, he was honored with numerous awards and scholarships and hoped to become an architect. But his family discouraged a career in the arts and steered him in a different direction. As a result, Harris earned his BSS (Bachelor of Business Studies) from Ohio State in 1961 and began life in the business world. Over the course of 30 years, he worked in the area of sustainable urban development, particularly in real estate and hotels. He co-founded the Red Roof Inns hotel chain and later the Amerisuites Hotels.

“I was creative in business,” Harris told The Sopris Sun, but his creativity was not satisfied in that world.

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So, Harris sold his company in 1996 and proceeded to follow his passion. “When I made the leap, my friends asked me when I was going to get a real job,” he said.

Harris chose as his mentor an artist whose work he had long admired: Bill Prokopiof (1944-1999) and moved to Santa Fe to study with him. He was also taught by sculptor Doug Hyde. Both men were protégés of the Apache artist Allan Houser, one of the most renowned Native American painters and modernist sculptors of the 21st century. These Native American influences are evident in his sculptures, created of alabaster, marble, limestone, bronze and sometimes a combination of those elements.

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About nine years ago, Harris decided to make his home in Carbondale, drawn by its small town charm and its “offbeat” personality. He finds the town to be “nurturing and accepting” to artists of all levels.

“I give Amy Kimberly [executive director of the Carbondale Council of Arts and Humanities] credit for Carbondale being recognized as one of the most creative small towns in Colorado,” he said, referring to the fact that Carbondale was selected to be part of the Colorado Creative Industries Creative District program. Harris has also worked with fellow sculptor James Surls and has served as chairman of the Carbondale Public Arts Commission.

Sculpture remains Harris’s passion and his full-time career. When he’s not traveling to attend an exhibit, he can be found in his studio near Glenwood Springs. “I really don’t want to do anything else,” he said. His next major show will be in Chicago on Nov. 6-9. SOFA — Sculptural Object and Functional Art — will be an international art exposition held at the Navy Pier. Harris’s work can be seen locally at the Aspen Art Gallery on Mill Street and on his website, www.markyaleharris.com.

Mark Yale Harris (left) and Deep in the Heart Art Foundry owner Clint Howard (right) after installing a piece of sculpture at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Harris’s work can be seen locally at the Aspen Art Gallery on Mill Street and markyaleharris.com. Courtesy photo

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