45-year partnership on display at two Colorado art galleries
“He is overflowing with talent. He was always driven, as he is now,” Carol said. Over the years, Tunson studied at the University of Colorado, Parson’s School of Design, the University of Denver, and Adams State College, where he received his master’s degree. Observing Tunson at work for 50 years, Carol said, “Her frustration is that there are only so many hours in a day.”
Carol, 81, met Tunson, 74, in 1971 when he was hired as an art teacher at Palmer High School.
As an English teacher in the same building, “I had heard there was this artist up there who had a great job,” she said. “I went to his class one day, and he had some pieces of him as demonstrations for the students. What he was working on at the time was so interesting – I just had to find out more about it.
Carol went to Tunson’s studio – and left with her first piece, a collage.
As Tunson pursued his own art in tandem with teaching, “he gave up sleeping and eating regular meals and things like that,” Carol said. “Because he couldn’t, not Paint. He just couldn’t.
“I taught during the day,” Tunson said. “I would come home, take a nap after school and wake up around seven o’clock. Then I went into my studio and worked until sometimes one or two in the morning. Then I woke up and went to school. I did this cycle for about 30 years.
“It’s wonderful to have inspiration, but art is above all work. It’s mostly hard work. It’s mostly discipline,” Tunson said. “I have always tried to bring out the best in all students in their pursuit of the arts. Most of the studio practice I did in school. I was also doing it myself,” he said, “so it helped me a lot to be an artist who taught art.”
Still, “I tried to separate my art from the things I was teaching in the classroom,” Tunson acknowledged. “I didn’t want to impose my personal artistic values on the students, or what art was for me. I didn’t want little Floyd Tunsons running around. I tried to give students something more holistic that they could relate to.
Many of the students he taught became “serious artists,” Carol said. “He saw their talent and encouraged them a lot.”
At one point, Carol said, she helped Tunson submit artwork for a juried exhibition, “and it went from there. I started doing a little more of this, a little more of that. She inventoried and planned and promoted. “It just became, I don’t know – a habit,” she shrugs.
“When you work with Floyd, you also work with Wylene. They are a whole together,” McGowan said, noting that Tunson and Carol’s managerial relationship is “very rare and very special.”
McGowan invited Carol to serve as a co-curator with herself and Parson for the Denver program, noting that “her level of contribution is above and beyond”.
Carol’s managerial support “has made possible much of Floyd’s prolific work creation over time,” McGowan noted. “It allowed him to have an active career in exhibition and to seek representation.” (Tunson is represented by Denver’s Michael Warren Gallery.) He has enabled Tunson to establish and maintain “effective time boundaries for him to create work,” McGowan said, protecting him from mundane tasks and “that can really take up so much mental space.”
“I do whatever needs to be done,” Carol said. “It’s mostly boring, routine stuff,” she insists. Carol maintains a pictorial and paper inventory of some 2,000 pieces, coordinates and plans with museums, and communicates with galleries and clients.
Carol writes a copy for Tunson, saying she learned to “gather information from Floyd indirectly through conversations.” Sometimes he doesn’t even realize that the things he says are relevant to what I will say about him later,” she said.
Without administrative support, artists can sometimes lose opportunities, Carol said. “Nowadays you need multiple levels of support. I think for an artist, you really need a village.
While Tunson’s approach has remained unified over the past 45 years, “my understanding of it has improved — or evolved,” Carol said. Her role as Tunson’s manager enlivens life, she said warmly, meeting fascinating people, attending events, engaging in collaborative projects, and forming wonderful friendships — some, unforeseen.
Like one day when a stranger called Carol on the phone.
“I don’t know how she found my phone number,” Carol said. “She said, ‘You don’t know me, but I live across the street. And I noticed that there’s this painting on your wall. Would you mind turning on your light? I thought I might see him again. I said, ‘Of course!’
Carol invited the stranger to take a closer look. They remain good friends to this day.
Carol launches a “Yes!” ” enthusiastic. When asked if she had always been a lover of the visual arts. “But – I didn’t know that,” she adds. While attending high school in her small town in southern Missouri, an observant teacher suggested she pick up a copy of The New Yorker.
“Well, I didn’t know what it was,” Carol said. “So I went to a store and bought a copy.”
The magazine flipped a switch – one section in particular.
“I kept reading the art reviews,” Carol said in awe. “I didn’t understand a word. I didn’t know what it was about. But I just kept reading those reviews. Later in life, when she had the opportunity to see art, “I was just hooked,” Carol said.