If you live around Montrose, you’ve probably seen Lu Anne Tyrrell, a blonde lady with a winning smile and a camera in her hand. You might ask yourself how does a person make a living doing photography and art in a small town in the boonies like Montrose, Colo.
Not everyone could do it. It takes a certain amount of character and grit. It helps to have imagination and buckets of artistic talent. She always had that; she used to play with her food, much to the chagrin of her family, and mashed potatoes became a moat, peas were mountains.
She grew up in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and recalls a quiet girl’s childhood. She had a speech impediment growing up. But she wanted a car and her mother said she’d co-sign if Tyrrell found a job. She was hired at McDonald’s, “Speaking to the customers was more than overwhelming to me,” she said. “The manager worked with me one-on-one. And I took a speech class and got an A. I’ve been fortunate since that time because, somewhere between him and the good Lord and Angels, it instilled a level of confidence.” Today she has no fear of speaking in public.
From Wheat Ridge, she studied commercial art at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She returned to Colorado after Flagstaff and hoped to work in the Coors Brewery advertising department. When her job interview turned out to be a “cattle call,” she chose to go to Plan B.
Her mother had decided to move to the Pacific Northwest to join her sister and family. Tyrrell drove to Vancouver, Wash. in a car crammed with high school memories, plants and a cat. “I sent a resume to the Baranov Hotel in Juneau, Alaska where they hired me sight unseen and flew me up there. I’d always wanted to go to Alaska and went up there and worked a season in their catering department.”
She lived in the Northwest for 18 years. Why did she leave? “There’s nothing more beautiful than a sunny day in the Pacific Northwest. However, it’s only once a month,” she laughed at the old memory.
It was spring, 1999. She needed sunshine and half the family was living in Montrose. “One of my first impressions was flying into Montrose and covering my eyes,” she recalls, “even though I had sunglasses on. It was so incredibly bright.”
She started exploring the area, looking for work. Her first job was selling advertising for San Juan Publishing. The Coffee Trader had recently opened and Tyrrell began a 20 year friendship with the owners, Dee and Phuong.
She used her commercial art training to create the original logo for the Coffee Trader, as well as one for the original SheShe Boutique.
The digital revolution was in its infancy and Tyrrell had a film camera. She obtained a freelance job with the Daily Press but the film processing proved to be too slow for a daily paper and Stephen Woody, the editor, lent Tyrrell his digital Olympus camera. It cut the time in half.
She eventually bought her own digital Olympus. “I wore that poor thing out. I started to capture all moments and the regionality of Montrose. I noticed when I moved here that there were no Montrose souvenirs imprinted.” A few years later she worked with Walgreens and created some Montrose souvenirs based on her photos—mugs, apparel and such.
Over the years she has found outlets for her art beyond the boundaries of the Western Slope. Last September she signed a contract with Roaring Brook Art, an art publisher in New York. “They have about 70 of my pieces. You can now Google my name and see my work at Amazon, Wayfair, and Rachael Ray, where it would be very difficult for an independent artist to get on.”
Those who know Tyrrell as more than an independent artist earning her living the hard way will know what good care she took of her mother. “I feel very, very privileged and honored that I was there with my mother. She passed away in 2016 at 99, and even though she was legally blind for 17 years, she was always up for an adventure. At 86 she wanted one more dog and that was Gidget.”
Tyrrell’s soft and humorous side is apparent on Gidget’s page on Facebook. “Although my mother didn’t understand computers or Facebook, she would say ‘Can you dial on that computer thing where people talk’ (meaning Facebook).”
These days she is caught up in the golden beauty of Fall, but she already knows the clean, white and sparkling season Mother Nature will offer next. Now that she has spread her wings, signing with a large art publisher, there are people in far-flung states who will want the beauty of a Western Colorado winter on their walls.