March 8, 2021


Frida Kahlo, Sun and Life, 1947, oil on masonite, private collection, courtesy Galería Arvil© 2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

What more is there to say about Frida Kahlo?

She died in 1954 at age 47. By now she’s a cottage industry. Her face (that unibrow, the red lips, the scores of self portraits) reproduced on mugs, matchbooks, pandemic masks, of course tote bags.


As Mexico Capitalizes On Her Image, Has Frida Kahlo Become Over-Commercialized?

Fans can recite her story: The terrible accident when she was 18 — a bus/tram collision in Mexico City smashing her body, and creating a lifetime of surgeries and pain.

The passionate, tumultuous years with artist Diego Rivera. “I suffered two serious accidents in my life,” Kahlo said. “One in which a bus threw me to the ground … the other … Diego.”

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at their home in Mexico City on April 13, 1939.AP

The extraordinary paintings she made until her death. 

The global cult figure she’s become.

There’s some less familiar information in a new and very good documentary about her.

~~~ WATCH ~~~

And on March 7, the Dallas Museum of Art opened a small exhibition — Frida Kahlo: Five Works — that finds revelations in lesser known paintings she made later in life when her health was deteriorating and her art changed.

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Parrot and Flag, 1951, oil on masonite, private collection, courtesy Galería Arvil© 2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“Still lifes were something she touched on throughout her career,” Dallas curator Mark A. Castro says. “But in those last few years she returned to them in greater number.”

Frida Kahlo, Still Life, 1951, oil on masonite, private collection, courtesy Galería Arvil© 2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Her themes remain: luscious fruits, love of Mexico, animals, Diego. But there are fewer radiant or tormented self-portraits. She told friends still lifes sold well, and were easier to do. (I wonder if she also grew weary of looking at her own aging, agonized face.)

Curator Castro says these later works are a kind of self-portrait, and Dallas conservation lab X-rays and infrared photography discovered for the first time how she worked. Still Life with Parrot and Flag showed her changing the position of the bird’s wing, and cutting open fruit she’d initially painted intact. “There was a process of refinement that she was going through,” Castro says. She moved from personal expression to “focusing on how to make them work on a visual level.” Helpful information, as scholars go beyond Kahlo’s life and hard times, to study her as a painter and intellectual.

But she was also, twice, the wife of Diego Rivera. And this small work, on a souvenir frame studded with painted shells, shows what he meant to her.

It looks like a devotional piece and, literally, it is. See the two dates on the frame? 1929 — the year they first married (then divorced, then re-married) and 1944 — marking the years of their on-and-off relationship. Maybe it was a birthday gift for Diego, or an anniversary present. She fuses their faces together. They become a whole.

The five works on view in Dallas belong to collectors in Mexico who offered them on loan. Mark Castro felt this was the perfect time to exhibit them. “In this difficult period, people feel a strong connection to Kahlo’s sorrows and triumphs.” Art helps us get through bad times, as making art did for Kahlo.

“Painting completed my life” she said.

Her fans might feel the same way.


With vaccines for all on the horizon, we will have to find our way back from grief and loneliness.

By Timothy Egan

Contributing Opinion Writer

  • March 5, 2021
Credit…Alessandra Sanguinetti/Magnum Photos

And so we emerge, blinking after lockdown, in the strange sunlight of community. After a year of death, a season of hope is suddenly before us, ushered in by President Biden’s promise of enough vaccines for every American adult by the end of May.

Life is never so sweet as in the pivot out of despair, the chance to embrace what I recently saw called “the endorphins of possibility.” Soon, if we’re not staggered by the reckless decision of Texas and a handful of other states to abandon medical caution and common sense, we may experience a summer of normal.

Normal! Will we recognize it when we see it, feel it, live it? Normal is a movable feast, depending on your view. “The U.S. Is Edging Toward Normal, Alarming Some Officials” was a New York Times headline for the ages this week.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been understandably vague on the return to normalcy, saying that we may still need to wear masks into 2022 and that manufacturers may need to adapt the vaccines to variants. But just consider the comfort of seminormal: travel, small gatherings, baseball, street festivals, (small) family reunions, hugs.

For me, the test of normalcy will be friendship. After the flat tediousness of Zoom, I wonder if we’ll still have the muscle memory for in-person fellowship. Texts and emails are where nuance and jokes go to die. Virtual hangouts are miserable.

A year in a bunker, whether a one-bedroom apartment or a McMansion with a view, is corrosive to companionship.

We lost a year of life expectancy, and more than half a million Americans, to Covid-19. I lost friends. But I was not new to grief, which came early in my adult life, when my two best friends died in separate auto accidents. All of us were in our 20s. I realized then that friendship was fragile and fleeting. Truly good friends are hard to find; harder still is maintaining those bonds.

How rare? Even before the great shutdown, a 2019 YouGov survey in Britain found that about one in four adults had no best friend. Fifteen percent reported no close friends. And 8 percent said they had no friends at all.

Social isolation cannot have helped the epidemic of loneliness. Two-thirds of American and British people surveyed in a 2020 poll said they felt “more lonely” during the pandemic, though that finding has to fall under the category of “obviously.”

Over the past year, I lost at least one friend to the dark side of social media, which I blame on limited social interaction. He became a forever-Trumper, taking in the most deranged conspiracy theories, viewing half of his fellow Americans as evil. A diet of hard-right talk radio, Fox News and the MAGA-sphere of misinformation made him unrecognizable. It’s damn near impossible to maintain a friendship when the other person believes the earth is flat.

If only he’d spent the last year watching Ted Lasso, the unlikely American coach of a British professional soccer team, and the most likable chucklehead on television since Gomer Pyle. (He also had one of the better lines: “Our goal is to go out like Willie Nelson, on a high.”)

Oh, the people I miss! I can’t take a walk in the city without looking down at sewer lids, always thinking of a lifelong friend I haven’t seen in a year or more. His father ran a family foundry, producing manhole covers, as they were once called, stamped with the firm’s name. He loved to point them out.

One year ago, we had no idea how long or how bad the pandemic would be. Worse, we had no compass, no way out of this global nightmare. And we had a president who not only didn’t care, but also spouted all sorts of gibberish about the coronavirus magically disappearing, or treating it with household bleach.

Now, there’s this optimism from The Wall Street Journal: “At the current trajectory, I expect Covid will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life,” wrote Dr. Marty Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University.

It was his projection that set off my own endorphins of possibility, even before Biden’s announcement on vaccine availability. Makary’s piece prompted considerable pushback, with critics insisting that his prediction, like lifting the mask mandate in Texas, was dangerously premature.

Still, it got me thinking of the words of the poet T.S. Eliot: “Do I dare/Disturb the universe?” I’m going to err on the side of disturbing with caution. Coming out of our bubbles, there are sure to be new problems with old friends. And old problems preventing us from making new friends.

But I am eager, and not without some anxiety, to revive dormant friendship skills. The thought of conversing with a pal without a mask, of being able to see a smile, a smirk, or watch laughter in motion is tantalizing. So is not worrying about who gets inside the precious quarantine personal dome.

In his book on losing his son Beau to cancer, Joe Biden quotes Immanuel Kant in the epigraph: “Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.” The fortunate among us had all three under lockdown, harnessed though they were. Postpandemic, we can follow them without restraint.

Saturday quote “…”

“covid was a dress rehearsal for our climate future. The questions we faced in responding to a global health disaster are the ones we face in preparing for the even greater threat of climate change.”      Saket Soni

Saket Soni

After Hurricane Katrina, in 2006, Saket co-founded the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. Under his leadership, the organization won organizing and policy victories for both U.S.-born and immigrant workers engaged in the reconstruction of New Orleans. Saket led the organization to win precedent-setting National Labor Relations Board decisions protecting migrant whistleblowers on the front lines of the hospitality and seafood industries from retaliatory firings and blacklisting. In New Orleans, he also crafted campaigns to win pathways into the publicly funded construction industry for African American workers. Saket led a combined organizing and legal strategy to combat human trafficking, which resulted in a federal court awarding over $14 million in damages to migrant resilience workers rebuilding the Gulf Coast. In 2011, Saket founded the National Guestworker Alliance, an organization focused on defending the human rights and dignity of guestworkers in America.
Saket is recognized as a national expert on post-disaster economies, immigrant rights and the future of work. He was profiled as an “architect of the next labor movement” in USA Today, and he has testified before Congress and at the United Nations. Saket’s advocacy efforts have been featured on NPR, in Time, and on the front page of The New York Times. His writings have appeared in the L.A. TimesThe Hill, The NationLatino JournalTalking Points Memo and on CNN.com.
Saket co-authored And Injustice For All: Workers’ Lives In the Reconstruction, the most comprehensive report on race in the reconstruction of the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, as well as Never Again: Lessons of the Gustav Evacuation, an account of the inequities in the response to Hurricane Gustav in 2009, which led to new state policies and new norms for evacuating the most vulnerable residents in preparation for disaster.
Saket began his career as a community organizer in Chicago at the Coalition of African, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois. He is originally from New Delhi, India.


THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS follows a handful of men, seventy to eighty years young, in Piedmont, Italy, on the search for the elusive Alba truffle. They’re guided by a secret culture passed down through generations, as well as by the noses of their cherished and expertly trained dogs. The documentary subtly explores the devastating effects of climate change and deforestation on an age-old tradition through a visually stunning narrative that celebrates life and exalts the human spirit.

~~~ WATCH ~~~

‘The Truffle Hunters’ Tells The Story Of Men And Dogs Searching For Culinary Gold


NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw about their new documentary. The Truffle Hunters is about the men and dogs who sniff out Italy’s rare white Alba truffles.


Review: In ‘Truffle Hunters,’ An Enchanting But Beset World

By JAKE COYLEAP Film Writer     

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Aurelio Conterno and his dog Birba in a scene from


You’ve got to love a movie that credits its dogs before it does its executive producers. 

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows a scene from
This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows a scene from

View all (3)

“The Truffle Hunters,” Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s exquisitely charming documentary about old Italian men who scavenge truffles and the dogs they’re bound to, lists the canines with the appropriate respect in the end credits. Birba. Biri. Charlie. Fiona. Nina. Titina. Yari. These are some of the stars of “Truffle Hunters,” a profoundly lovely movie that delights in the noble scavengers of a dog-eat-dog world.

“The Truffle Hunters,” which is shortlisted for best documentary at the Academy Awards and which Sony Pictures Classics will release in theaters Friday, is set in the northern Italy forests of Piedmont. Dweck and Kershaw, both cinematographers, film the truffle hunters — aging, sweet men practicing an ancient and secretive tradition — in painterly, pointillistic tableaux as they walk through autumnal forests, foraging with their dogs. They seep into the landscape.

The film, scored by composer Ed Cortes with retro Italian pop mixed in, conjures an otherworldly enchantment. In between backwoods trips where their dogs smell their way to the high-priced delicacies, the hunters live humbly in old country homes. Our main characters are never explicitly introduced, but we’re drawn intimately into their world, as if we just passed through a magical portal. Aurelio, 84, dines with his companion, Birba, sitting on the table. Carlo, 88, never seems to stop smiling, especially when he manages to get past his wife (who sternly believes him too old to truffle hunt at night) and slip into the woods with his dog, Titina. The younger, long-haired Sergio, a kindly but passionate soul, bathes with his pups — Pepe and Fiona — in a pink-tiled tub. This, surely, is a gentle realm every bit as bewitching as Narnia. 

But the hunters’ earthy endeavor isn’t as simple as it seems. Their way of life is a dying one. The rare white Alba truffle is increasingly hard to find because of effects on the soil connected to climate change. The hunters are often pressed for their secrets. “If tomorrow something happens, your wisdom would be lost,” one man urges Aurelio. So sought-after are the truffles that their dogs are perpetually at risk of being poisoned by competitors. Sergio, terrified of losing his, pounds on his drums for catharsis. Another hunter, intent on putting something down, hammers furiously at his typewriter. “Dogs are innocent,” he writes. 

The sense that the hunters — who are really in it for the dogs more than money or anything else — are, like their four-legged friends, innocents in a corrupt world only expands when the filmmakers follow the truffle food chain. Haggling over prices by headlight, the hunters seem always lowballed by a well-dressed buyer. Higher up, still, are the Michelin-starred restaurants and auction houses that feast on the hunters’ finds. This commercial world, miles removed from the muddy forests of Piedmont, is seen in “The Truffle Hunters” like an antiseptic, colorless modern life that has lost the taste of the simple and eternal. 

Wonder and whimsy is back in the forest. “The Truffle Hunters” — surely among the greatest dog movies — even wryly occasionally shifts to a dog’s point of view. We see — via dog cam — like one of the hunters’ dogs when he’s let out of the car and runs down a path, panting. 

Just as last year’s beekeeping beauty “Honeyland,” “The Truffle Hunters” is a richly allegorical documentary of a vanishing agricultural pastime. The truffles, weighed and sniffed at market, are delicacies. But the finer things rhapsodized here are not expensive rarities. What’s worth savoring is natural splendor, the charms of tradition, and, above all, a good dog. Those things aren’t delicacies, but they’re fragile just the same.

“The Truffle Hunters,” a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some language. Running time: 84 minutes. Four stars out of four.


The state needed an above-average snow year this winter to reverse the drought’s momentum. Forecasts for the next few months aren’t optimistic, either.

Lucy Haggard

Mar 4, 2021

Paonia Reservoir sits covered in snow in Gunnison County, Colorado. Monday Jan. 25, 2021. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado is no longer technically 100% in drought. And conditions in some areas of the state have slightly improved as recent spring snows have left deeper-than-forecast drifts. But don’t get too excited just yet. 

Last week’s snowstorms across the Front Range were enough to downgrade some areas from “extreme” drought to “severe,” according to the latest national drought monitor report released Thursday by the University of Nebraska. And the previous week’s map had downgraded much of the San Luis Valley from “moderate” drought to “abnormally dry.”

That’s the good news. The bad news: 98.57% of the state is still in drought, to varying degrees. And experts aren’t confident that conditions will improve anytime soon. 

Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes or other weather events, drought is a phenomenon that builds over time, and its effects compound as it persists. Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center and the author of this week’s drought monitor report, noted that some regions of the state, particularly the southwest, have been drier than average for multiple years. This time last year, 45.33% of the state was in drought, none of which was classified in the worst two categories. 

As of Thursday’s report, 56.66% of the state’s drought is “extreme” or “exceptional.” Colorado’s current drought conditions are the result of a combination of earlier-than-average snowmelt last spring, a lack of summer monsoons and a warm, dry autumn that led the state to use even more of its water reserves. Add this winter’s lackluster snowfall and it becomes a tricky situation. 

“If it took a number of years to get into drought, what will it take over the next several years to come out of drought?” Fuchs said. 

Answering that question is a complicated task. The order of operations is important, too; soils need to rehydrate first, soaking up runoff like a sponge, before the water can continue on to rivers and streams. 

In an ideal scenario, the state would have received above-average snowpack this winter to saturate dried-out soils, store up enough moisture for better runoff this spring and summer and refill reservoirs. But snow-water equivalent estimates for Colorado’s eight alpine river basins are at least a little below their 30-year averages, according to reports from the National Resource Conservation Service. (The amount of liquid water held in snow can vary, so measuring snow depth alone won’t accurately gauge how much runoff will occur when warmer weather arrives.

The spring months are often perceived as Colorado’s snowiest time of year, but Assistant State Climatologist Becky Bolinger says that’s really only true for the Front Range. Higher elevations should be receiving sizable moisture loads all winter long, and despite recent storms, models for the next few months are not encouraging.

“Unfortunately it’s little battles that are being won in a bigger war,” Bolinger said. “One winter can be prepared for, and that’s why we have reservoirs and that’s why we monitor this. A winter like this, where we came in already struggling is definitely going to be a bigger concern.”

The state has already activated the agricultural and municipal parts of its drought contingency plan, and Front Range cities are warning residents that they may need to cut back their use this spring. 

Negotiations will begin soon in the yearslong process to reallocate the Colorado River basin’s flows among the seven states, two countries and multiple tribes that rely on its water. The past 20 years have seen increasingly frequent drought conditions due to climate change, and Bolinger says it may become impossible to recover from these water deficits.

“It’s something that can’t be made up,” Bolinger said. “These compacts that they wrote in the 1920s just really aren’t appropriate for what our climate and water situation actually looks like today.”


State Attorney General says testimony of Colorado Avalanche Information Center boss Ethan Green in first-ever criminal case involving an avalanche could hinder reporting and damage the research function of the agency.

Jason Blevins

Mar 5, 2021

The March 25 avalanche deposited as much as 20 feet of debris on the Loop Road above the west portal of the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel. (Provided by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

Evan Hannibal happily handed over his helmet video of the avalanche that triggered below his snowboard and buried a service road above Interstate 70 last March. 

He hoped the Colorado Avalanche Information Center would use the video and his first-person account to help educate other skiers and snowboarders. Maybe the lessons he learned from his close-up with an avalanche could help others avoid slides. 

So when Summit County prosecutors used the video to anchor a criminal case and seek restitution for an avalanche mitigation device damaged in the March 25 slide, Hannibal argued that the charges could sway other backcountry travelers to stop sharing information with the avalanche center and its investigators. 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, acting an attorney for the state’s avalanche center, last week agreed with Hannibal, arguing that Summit County’s plan to call avalanche center director Ethan Greene as an expert witness “could have an unintended adverse ‘chilling’ impact on the CAIC’s ability to gather important information.”

Weiser’s office filed motions to quash subpoenas issued by the Fifth Judicial District Attorney requiring Greene and avalanche center forecaster Jason Konisberg to testify as expert witnesses in the upcoming jury trial of Hannibal and his backcountry partner Tyler DeWitt. 

The two experienced backcountry snowboarders face charges of reckless endangerment and restitution of $168,000 after they reported an avalanche on March 25 that buried a service road above the west portal of the Johnson Eisenhower Memorial Tunnels and destroyed an avalanche mitigation device. 

It’s a first-of-its-kind case in several respects. 

Backcountry travelers have never faced criminal charges connected to an avalanche in Colorado. Last month Summit County Court Judge Ed Casias rejected the pair’s argument that their rights were violated when the helmet video was turned over to police as evidence of a crime. 

And now the top lawyer in Colorado has waded into the fray, asking Casias to reject the prosecution plan to have state employees testify against the snowboarders. 

“There is genuine concern by CAIC that if CAIC employees appear as an expert witness in a criminal matter it could adversely impact their ability to gather relevant information from persons involved in an avalanche,” the motion filed by Weiser’s office reads. “The more involved CAIC is in this criminal matter, the more it looks like they are working in coordination with law enforcement, rather than in cooperation with local law enforcement, resulting in a chilling effect to the detriment of CAIC’s mission.”

Weiser also argued that the subpoenas requiring Greene and Konisberg to testify for two days is “unduly burdensome, unreasonable and oppressive,” taking them away from avalanche investigations and forecasting. 

“To command that Mr. Greene step away from his diverse responsibilities, during the CAIC’s busiest month of the winter season, is unreasonable and impactful to the important work of this agency generally and Mr. Greene specifically,” reads the motion. 

James Moss, an attorney with more than 35 years of experience in recreation law, said the loss of Greene and Konisberg could hinder the prosecution’s case. Without those two testifying as avalanche-science experts, Moss said, the district attorney will be challenged to explain the report compiled by the avalanche center or explain why that avalanche mitigation device was placed in that particular location.

But more importantly, Moss said, is the threat to CAIC’s mission, which involves educating the public on avalanche risks using information gathered from backcountry travelers. 

“The motion stated quite clearly that this is going to screw up avalanche research and avalanche reporting in Colorado forever,” said Moss, who has no connection to the case but is urging all backcountry travelers to avoid talking with the CAIC

“You never report to CAIC from here on out, period,” Moss said.

“And I’m a big supporter of the CAIC. They do phenomenal work. It’s a horrendously difficult job that saves a lot of lives,” he said. “But this case is threatening future lives for a $170,000 piece of equipment and a road that gets buried probably every other week in the winter season.”


A new show in Manhattan displays the visceral posters for the gonzo journalist’s “Freak Power” campaign in 1970.

Thomas W. Benton’s “Thompson for Sheriff,” (1970), silkscreen on paper.
Thomas W. Benton’s “Thompson for Sheriff,” (1970), silkscreen on paper.Credit…Thomas W. Benton, via Poster House

By Brett Sokol

  • March 4, 2021

If you’re going to curate an exhibition of vintage artwork related to the unorthodox and self-described gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, prepare for the process itself to become a bit, well, gonzo.

Daniel Joseph Watkins learned this lesson the hard way. He had to figure out how to move “Freak Power,” an exhibition featuring the visually striking campaign posters designed for Thompson’s 1970 run for county sheriff in Colorado, from his Aspen-based gallery to Poster House in Manhattan, where it’s open through Aug. 15.

The posters, designed and silk-screened by the artist Thomas W. Benton, a close friend of Thompson’s and a fellow Californian turned Aspen activist, fused gut-punch electioneering (“Sell Aspen or Save It”) with visceral imagery (a clenched fist set against a sheriff’s badge). Surviving samples in pristine condition now sell for upward of $25,000. But that price tag pales in comparison to owners’ intense emotional attachment. “It would have been much easier to borrow a Warhol or a Rothko from some of these people,” laughed Watkins.

“Unfortunately, later in his life, Benton became consumed with a drug habit and had been trading and selling his artwork to several drug dealers,” he continued. One of those figures was willing to loan out several key Benton pieces. But he made it clear that if anything happened to them, filing an insurance claim would be the least of Watkins’s problems.

Hunter S. Thompson giving his concession speech on election night, Nov. 3, 1970, at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo.
Hunter S. Thompson giving his concession speech on election night, Nov. 3, 1970, at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo.Credit…David Hiser, via Poster House
A campaign worker for Thompson in Aspen on Election Day.
A campaign worker for Thompson in Aspen on Election Day.Credit…David Hiser, via Poster House

A suitably warned Watkins felt there was ultimately one person he could entrust to ship the posters east: himself. So last month he loaded up a U-Haul with the contents of the exhibition and personally drove it the 30 hours and nearly 2,000 miles to Poster House’s front doors.

“At night, I slept in the back of the truck with the artwork. I had a little bed there with a heated electric blanket. And I had a club,” he recalled matter-of-factly. “I had a friend following me in another car in case anything went wrong, and we would pull over to sleep in various Walmart parking lots.”

Poster House, the first museum in the United States devoted to the art of posters, opened in Chelsea in 2019, and the exhibition, co-curated with the artist Yuri Zupancic, is one of three on view in its gallery spaces. In addition to three dozen Benton posters, this show includes kinetic ink-splattered drawings by Ralph Steadman, whose illustrations accompanied many of Thompson’s articles; campaign trail photographs by the Aspen photojournalists David Hiser and Bob Krueger; and issues of The Aspen Wall Poster, a broadsheet newspaper designed by Benton and written by Thompson.

Installation view of “Freak Power,” on view through Aug. 15 at Poster House.
Installation view of “Freak Power,” on view through Aug. 15 at Poster House.Credit…Charles Shan Cerrone, via Poster House

For Angelina Lippert, Poster House’s chief curator, the exhibition’s range of material offers a fascinating dichotomy. “Hunter S. Thompson is a chaotic figure,” she said. “We’ve all seen ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’” the 1998 film with Johnny Depp portraying an unhinged Thompson. Steadman’s frenetic drawings echo that pinwheeling personality. Yet, “all of Benton’s posters are so reserved, quiet and direct in comparison,” Lippert went on. “It makes an incredible contrast to see these two guys expressing the same ideas in such powerfully different ways.”

To be fair, Thompson as a candidate couldn’t have been more different from Depp’s onscreen caricature. Instead, as seen in candid footage from Watkins’s own “Freak Power” documentary(2020), running daily as part of the Poster House show, Thompson was thoughtful and articulate — though his attitude toward politicking could be playfully wry. (Prepping for a public debate with the incumbent sheriff, Thompson secretly shaved his head so he could walk out onstage and — in the conservative parlance of the era — snidely refer to “my longhaired opponent.”) Most importantly, he was uninterested in mere symbolism, dismissing Norman Mailer’s 1969 New York City mayoral bid as “more a form of vengeance than electoral politics.” Thompson was running to win.

His “Freak Power” ticket signaled a pivot point for many Aspenites’ self-identity — catalyzing a movement to preserve the local environment with strict limits on real estate development; overhaul a police department, seen as wildly out of control; and legalize marijuana use. Once derided as merely “freak” concerns, they’ve since been embraced by local law enforcement or moved to the statute books.

“Freak Power: the Ballot or the Bomb,” a film poster by Ralph Steadman.
“Freak Power: the Ballot or the Bomb,” a film poster by Ralph Steadman.Credit…Ralph Steadman, via Poster House
Benton’s “Patriots Arise,” silkscreen on paper.
Benton’s “Patriots Arise,” silkscreen on paper.Credit…Thomas W. Benton, via Poster House

“Anybody who thinks I’m kidding is a fool,” one of his local newspaper ads declared. “739 new registrations since the September primary is no joke in a county with a total vote of less than 3,000. So the time has come, it seems, to dispense with evil humor and come to grips with the strange possibility that the next sheriff of this county might very well be a foul-mouthed outlaw journalist with some very rude notions about lifestyles, law enforcement and political reality in America.”

In the end, Thompson fell short, as outlying areas of the county came out strongly against him, causing him to lose the election by nearly 7 percentage points. “We ran an honest campaign, and that was the problem,” he quipped to The Associated Press.

Nonetheless, Watkins insists you can lose a battle and still win the war: Thompson-aligned candidates, relying on his voter base and a fresh series of Benton posters, took majority control of the county commission in 1972 and the sheriff’s office in 1976. By 1986, the sheriff was a former Thompson campaign worker. Implementing Thompson’s ideas brought its own fallout, though.

“There were unintended consequences of some of the limiting of development, in that it limited the supply so much that demand went off the charts,” Watkins said of a resulting housing crunch. “It led to the transition of Aspen being more of a wealthy place. People come to Aspen now and ask, ‘Where did all the hippies go?’ There’s definitely some bitterness and disappointment about that.”

If nothing else, Watkins hopes “Freak Power” rescues Thompson’s legacy from the cartoonlike mythology that has built up around him. “When I bring up his name, sometimes people say, ‘You mean Hunter Thompson, the guy with the drugs and the guns and the craziness?’ No, I mean Hunter Thompson, the prescient political thinker who transformed a community with a radical campaign.”

Freak Power

Through Aug. 15, Poster House, 119 W. 23rd Street. 917-722-2439; posterhouse.org; timed tickets required.