With roots in Colorado tracing back to 1873, Carolyn Campbell is very much a native; but like her ancestors, she has a sense of adventure in her.
“I was voracious about traveling,” she says, explaining that she was so inspired by a story and pictures of Machu Picchu in the mid 1950s that she accepted her first teaching job in Lima, Peru, so she could see the 15th-century ruins for herself. That was before Machu Picchu had even been restored or opened to the public.
Her ascent to the ancient Incan citadel was on her own with seven other passengers on a single railcar that made infrequent trips up the mountain; catching a ride on a truck took her closer to her destination. Young and naïve, she had planned to camp by herself amidst the ruins, but natives living nearby cautioned her that that would not be good, as “the snakes come out at night.” They took her into their modest hut to give her shelter for a couple of nights until she could get transportation back off the mountain.
After 18 months in Peru, she returned to Colorado, met and married Russ Campbell, and the two of them hitch-hiked back to South America together at a time when countries were going through revolutions. They experienced Communism first-hand and grew up quickly when it came to politics. They returned to the US, and Russ got involved in the US Information Agency (USIA). As a member of the public relations organization meant to influence public opinion of the US in foreign cultures, Russ’s new job took them back to South America for the next 10 years.
They called Venezuela and Brazil home in the 1960s. “There was a lot of danger! We were shot at!” Carolyn exclaims. “Five times bullets went through the house.” It was not uncommon for them to be notified by Interpol they needed to evacuate or leave town. “Russ was on two assassination lists! It was dangerous and exciting, and I loved it!”
A mother’s instinct to protect her babies finally won out, however; and they returned to the US in 1970. Having missed the 1960s altogether, Carolyn found the cultural changes to be enormous – far beyond the introduction of fast food restaurants. Music had escalated from ballads to bold rock and roll, while morals had degenerated. She was startled by the use of foul language in public and values in general. There had been a political shift, bringing with it the civil rights movement, which instituted many changes. The defiance of religion and family stunned her, as did the sight of hippies, people in dirty clothing and women going braless.
They landed back in Boulder, and her husband’s jobs subsequently took them to Aspen and San Jose, California, where she began dabbling in writing. She was designated a California Poet in the Schools. When they returned to Colorado in 1990, she discovered that Colorado hadn’t caught on to poetry yet, so she morphed into a storyteller of sorts. “I love the dramatic characterization,” she says of her monologues.
She published a novel on the Westward movement, based on a story from a strong woman’s perspective. “It’s called ‘Fireweed – a Woman’s Saga in Gold Rush America.’ Fireweed is a metaphor for a strong woman,” she explains. “It’s a strong plant that comes up after a disturbance.”
In total she’s written six books of poetry. Six times she's won the Colorado Authors' League award for her play, books of poetry and a chap book. She won the Colorado Book Award for “Tatooed Woman” and was a finalist for the same award twice after that. “Fireweed” was a finalist for The Willa Award.
“Soiled Doves of Colorado” inspired the dramatic monologues that she and three other ladies present when invited – the stories of young, uneducated women who lived on the edge of society and the entrepreneurial madams who made money from prostitution in the West. Jane Christie, Peggy Markham and Laura Mehmert join Carolyn for the monologues, each dressed in their Victorian hats.
Her bold, expressionistic paintings also tell stories – but not political or angry ones, as is typical of the expressionistic style. “They’re joyful fun, funny,” she says, explaining that they poke at vanity. All her paintings are colorful women with the hues exhibiting a Latin influence.
As a visual artist, she participates in two different women’s groups – Artists with Altitude and the Artists’ Alliance of Evergreen. Nearly every fall Carolyn participates in Open Door Studios.
Since 1985 Carolyn has been encouraging others to express their feelings by holding workshops, teaching poetry and creative writing and the writing of memoirs. “I just love it!” It’s not uncommon for her to get up I the middle of the night to write a poem. “I love language. I love words!”
It was her memories of picnics in O’Fallon Park and Bergen Park, ice skating on Evergreen Lake and signs along the highway for the quaint little town that served as reminders en route to the ski slopes that brought her back to Evergreen in 1990. She’s been a colorful figure here ever since.