Archivist on the Road: Colorado

By Jason Stieber

July 22, 2010

Car on the road with mountains in the background
Passing over a spur of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico on my way to Colorado (I hiked in these mountains as a boy, so it was something like a homecoming). Photo by Jason Stieber, 2010.

I’ve had the pleasure of escaping the recent crippling heat in Washington, DC to begin a nearly month-long collecting trip in the Rocky Mountain states. We loosely define these as New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. I will be visiting every one!

I’m in Colorado at the moment, a state which has traditionally attracted artists, hippies, bikers, and free spirits with its wild west appeal, striking topography, and relatively low cost of living. During the 1960s and 70s a huge number of communes were established here, many of them around ideals of artistic freedom. I visited one such magical place.

road leading to Libre
Libre is a solid twelve miles from any paved road. Photo by Jason Stieber, 2010.

Libre was founded in 1968 by New York painter Dean Fleming, his wife Linda, and a group of their close friends. Fleming was part of the important Park Place group of artists who fused geometry, sculpture, painting, and sound to create groundbreaking group installations in their cooperative space in SoHo. Fleming was intrigued by the design philosophy of Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes as a low cost solution to housing shortages. After visiting Colorado for an exhibition in Denver, Fleming purchased a remote 360 acre tract of land in the mountains southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. With the help of his friends he built the house and studio he lives in to this day.

Dome_exterior
Every board of Dean Fleming’s house was measured, cut, and hammered by hand. The dome is much larger than it appears from the outside. Photo by Jason Stieber, 2010.

Fleming invited his friends to move to this land and build their own homes. Slowly, the community gained momentum. Eventually, they built fifteen homes, placed the land into a non-profit corporation, and drafted a set of bylaws governing only the most primary concerns of the community. Libre survives to this day.

An astonishing collection of thousands of photographs from every stage of his life and career, correspondence, and hundreds of sketchbooks constitute Fleming’s archives. His studio space, built by his own hand, is a marvel of light and simplicity.

Studio
Dean showing me his latest work. Photo by Jason Stieber, 2010.
Studio
Dean in his studio.  Photo by Jason Stieber, 2010.

Fleming’s son, Luz was born at Libre and was also married there just a few days before my visit. Luz and his wife, Christine represent the next generation at Libre and are a testament to its continued vigor. As the four of us sat in Fleming’s kitchen with its hand-hewn charm and loving solidity, I was struck by how much the manifestation of one’s vision for life relies on a sort of relaxed courage. Fleming said, “We didn’t know how to build any of this stuff. We just came out and did it.”

Kitchen
This was my favorite part of the main dome, separated from a large workspace by a freestanding wall. Photo by Jason Stieber, 2010

Jason Stieber is one of two Collections Specialists at the Archives of American Art. Jason travels throughout the United States in search of treasures to add to the Smithsonian’s collections.

Comments

I am actually dying of envy, all the way from Prague, Jason. This is so awesome. What a beautiful space!

I read with great interest this post as I am greatly concerned with what is becoming a crisis in the senior citizen community as far as affordable housing.
Many seniors are facing the fact that their homes, and investments have devalued to the point that they are wondering how they will ever afford things like assisted living when and if they need it.
However I see a workable answer to the problem in what Mr Fleming created so many years ago. Perhaps seniors can band together to form communities of affordable housing complete with assisted living caregivers.
Thank you for your post it has provided a new direction of thought.
Thomas

Have always enjoyed seeing geodesic homes, knowing they are the strongest know structure using the least materials, giving the ability to create warmth and ambiance on a minimal budget. Perfect setting in most places, especially Colorado. Work well done! Nice floor paint also, having somewhat of a gloss making for ease with any clean-up.

Very cool, Jason. I spent the last couple years living on an old hippie commune in Northern California. The cabins were all hand-crafted, and there was a domed cabin similar to this one. The builders purposefully bucked conventional designs, one even going to so far as using no 90 degree angles. Unfortunately, art does not always agree with function... it was falling apart. So I am glad to see that there are some leftover hippies that know how to make something unique and functional! Beautiful work.

Not only are the costs of housing for seniors (of which I am one) increasing, but there is an alarming increase in utility costs that could force us from our home.
I have been trying to make as many changes as possible to make our home more "green", but that is expensive as well.

Cool dome! Looks like you had a great time

pretty nice place, nice car :)
nature trip

wow, the house looks very simple, I'd certainly want to have one of these house to spend a weekend getaway of relaxation

I have ridden through much of this land however not as far south. It must have been cool being in the dome house & I'm sure the stories. I once seen a home that looked like this in Florida. Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey.
Ken

That is great, we wouldn't get away with building something like that over here in the UK though

Cool photos, who is the photographer? And there is something special with the shape of the house, it's very unique indeed!

I am seriously going to start using all of that! Thank you so much, I am not even kidding! There is nothing that I hate more than coming up with content all the time to barely keep our real estate blog up. It's just so time consuming - so thanks again!

The house and the third photo are really unique, you could play something fun at the top of the house!

That sounds like an interesting community that Dean created, simple and far from the chaos of the high tech world. The house has a resemblance to an igloo, seems warm and cozy inside and any home that is built lovingly by hands is great home to live in. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

The picture like my neighborhood. I love it