Dirt Roads (2019-2021) by Jennifer Hohlfelder. 36 x 1.5 x 36”. Oil on canvas.

Jennifer Hohlfelder has lived many lives in her hometown of Boulder. The 56-year-old worked as a bookkeeper, a business owner and a salesperson before picking up a paintbrush and canvas in 2010. But it wasn’t until losing her last bookkeeping job at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a year after Hohlfelder’s first public exhibition, that her newfound art practice became a full-time pursuit. 

With the world on lockdown, Hohlfelder says she found a captive audience on Instagram ready to be transported by her dreamy depictions of destinations near and far. 

“I want to take people somewhere else. I want to get them out of their head,” she says. “And with the scenes I was naturally depicting, it was like, ‘Oh, of course people are resonating with this. Because it’s taking them outside their four walls.’”

Locals can embark on this journey for themselves starting today, when People & Places: Paintings by Jennifer Hohlfelder opens at the Museum of Boulder. Running through June 16, 2022, the solo exhibition features 35 oil paintings of scenes from Boulder and beyond. 

“I want it to feel more like a memory,” Hohlfelder says of her work. The artist’s colorful depictions are rooted in reality, but her incomplete lines and impressionistic mark-making techniques give these everyday moments a playful sense of abstraction. 

Visitors to the Museum of Boulder’s second-floor Lodge Gallery will recognize local landmarks like the Pearl Street Mall and the Boulder Book Store, alongside scenes inspired by the artist’s travels to places like Spain and the Caribbean. But Hohlfelder says the specific locations aren’t as important as the feelings they evoke.

“I have this ability through my art to bring joy to people and make them smile, or make them remember a place they went to as a kid that they just have such a great memory of,” she says. “Whether it’s an umbrella on a beach or a woman floating in a swimming pool, everything I paint, for me, connotes a feeling.”

Jump In (2022) by Jennifer Hohlfelder. 40 x 1.5 x 36”. Oil on canvas.
Pearl Street (2020) by Jennifer Hohlfelder. 36 x 1.5 x 48”. Oil on canvas.

‘Bringing it all back home’

For Chelsea Pennington Hahn, curator of collections at the Museum of Boulder, presenting Hohlfelder’s solo exhibition to the public is an opportunity to fulfill her organization’s mission to elevate and preserve community stories, past and present.

“We are always trying to be a community resource by sharing different stories of Boulder, largely through our historic artifact collection,” Hahn says. “But we like to use the Lodge Gallery space to also interpret more recent stories of Boulder — whether that’s events that have happened, or celebrating local organizations and local artists.” 

The most recent Lodge Gallery programming was the exhibition Boulder Strong: Still Strong, Remembering March 2021, which ended its run on Sunday, April 10. The show featured portraits by photographer and CU Boulder professor Ross Taylor alongside objects commemorating last year’s King Soopers shooting in South Boulder. 

“We really hoped [People & Places] would be a sort of 90-degree turn from that exhibit, which was very serious and reflective,” Hahn says. “We wanted to bring in this really colorful exhibit and hopefully evoke that spring-and-summer sense of newness.”

With Boulder Strong in the rearview, Hohlfelder’s warm and welcoming oil paintings offer a natural follow-up for fostering a sense of renewal.

“I’m a very positive person — it’s just not me to be negative,” Hohlfelder says. “Even during these dark days we’ve had, I’m still drawn to color and vibrancy, or a memory that made me happy.”

Helping her community find light after the darkness is a challenge made more meaningful by Hohlfelder’s deep roots in the community. She says it’s a special and surreal honor to hang her work on the gallery walls at the Museum of Boulder, where the artist took gymnastics classes during the building’s pre-museum days in the 1970s.

“To be back in that building, and on such a big scale, is just unbelievable to me,” Hohlfelder says. “It’s unreal, but it kind of makes sense. I have really deep roots here. It’s apropos, I think, for the pinnacle of my career so far to be this moment in my hometown.”

People & Places: Paintings by Jennifer Hohlfelder is on display in the Lodge Gallery at the Museum of Boulder through June 16, 2022. Visit the museum website for hours and ticketing information.

Jezy J. Gray

Jezy Gray was the former managing editor of Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, he was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more.