Boulder and the Beautiful: The dreams you plant
November, 07 2016
The first thing John Atencio asks me is, "Do you believe in dreams?"
No small talk. No predictable conversation starter. Just straight to the soul. Do you believe?
"Um, yes," I fumble. I do. Very much. But I feel vulnerable admitting it to a stranger. And maybe a little silly.
"Do you have a child?"
Wasn't I supposed to be the one conducting this interview? I tell him about Bettie Anne, first-grader.
"When I was your daughter's age, my uncle would come to town to visit us," Atencio begins. "I remember him drawing and I remember his hands going. It was almost magical how he could draw Mickey Mouse."
Google him, he says. Oh.
He's the "Disney Legend" (that's an official title), animator and imagineer from Walsenburg, who wrote the script of "Pirates of the Caribbean," among other achievements. He used to send his little nephew little Disney sketches — small pieces of artwork that John Atencio hung on the wall.
"I remember those pieces of art growing up, and they really inspired me to be an artist," says Atencio.
Only John Atencio's art took the shape of jewelry. Handcrafted, unique pieces whose designs he would sketch by hand, using the same drawing techniques he'd picked up by watching his uncle sketch out Disney characters.
"Somehow that motion and fluidity of art came through his hands and came into my hands," John Atencio says. "If you see me draw today, it's almost exactly how my uncle drew Mickey Mouse."
John Atencio recently opened a new boutique in Boulder's PearlWest development.
You probably recognize his name from the high-end, Colorado-based jewelry line; he already has six shops across the state. But his Boulder store is something different.
It's first and foremost an art gallery. His paintings hang on the wall; yes, the Denver jeweler is also a painter, but he didn't foster the passion until more recently. All of the jewelry cases in his Boulder shop are moveable, to allow for parties and provide a more art-gallery feeling. It features a kitchen, for entertaining.
It's about serving and developing relationships with people, more than it's about selling jewelry, Atencio says. After all, he says, he feels more like an artist than a jeweler, and he wanted his store to reflect that.
The Boulder shop marks John Atencio's 40th year in the business — and a return to the city where he first started selling his designs, on The Hill, in 1973.
He used to roll up in his VW Bus, sometimes staying for days. He sold his jewelry to a store called Pat Peterson's.
He designed his first ring as a business student at Colorado State University. It was for his girlfriend. He got the girl.
They were married (and later divorced), but the true fairytale love story was with the ring he made, he says. It fed his passion to create, and jewelry-designing helped him find his own heart, he says.
"This is like a dream," he says. "I didn't know how to make jewelry, so I taught myself. I didn't really know what to do with myself, so I concocted this in a dream, and I've been following the dream ever since."
Again: "Do you believe in dreams?" This time, his question feels rhetorical.
I think about Aimee, age 7. That's the year my mom started writing short children's books. It's also the year I started writing my own short children's books, as well as a neighborhood newspaper, The Pet and People Paper. None of my mom's books were printed, but they imprinted onto me.
Today, I edit and write books and write for a (bigger) neighborhood paper — whose original newsroom was at the corner of 11th and Pearl. My newsroom was torn down to build the new PearlWest building, John Atencio's new Boulder home. Dreams merge.
Today, he makes personalized, bold, glamorous fine jewelry (gold, silver, diamonds) with thousands of pieces to his name.
His new store features John Atencio's Signature Collection, his new line of watches and designs exclusive to Boulder.
I think about Bettie Anne, almost age 7. I tell John Atencio how much she loves to draw monsters and smiling polar bears and how she colors everything in a patchwork of unusual colors.
"Tell her about my story. Bring her to the store and let her look around," he says. "By encouraging her, you might just blow your mind with what she might turn out to be some day."
As for his own child? Also a creator.
Peter Atencio grew up to become a Hollywood producer/director and just won his first Emmy.
"Encourage your child to create," John Atencio says. "Take her to galleries. Really let her be free with her art and encourage her to do it ... I wanted to be like my uncle. That fired me up, and it fired my son up, too."
You never know what's going to shape a child's life.
That's the most nerve-wracking part about being a parent and also the most beautiful: the dreams you plant.