Up close and personal
A look at Durango’s public art collection

Elizabeth MacQueen's "Puck" keeps a watchful eye over E. Second Avenue earlier this week./Photo by Todd Newcomer

by Jules Masterjohn

As much as we strive for perfection, it is a well-known fact that few among us want to admit: flawless impeccability is impossible. Somewhere along the way in writing last week’s story about artist Dave Claussen and his larger-than-life-sized sculptures, crucial contributors to the creative process were inadvertently omitted.

What should have been told is this: Tom Gorton, developer of Edgemont Highlands, where Claussen’s enormous sculptures reside, hired a design firm to brainstorm concepts for sculpture to be placed at the development. It was Neil Hannum and Kris Hickcox, of Durango-based Creative Conspiracy, who initially presented the ideas for oversized pinecones, oak branches and pine needles to Gorton. Credit is due to the Creative Conspiracy team for its part in the project – the idea for placing large botanical elements in the landscape deserves recognition.

Other large sculptures around town are getting lavish attention as the comfortable weather brings more outdoor foot traffic. The trio of cast bronze pony sculptures, “Whinny and Friends,” on display in front of the D&SNGRR train station, created by Joyce Parkerson, starts getting a good polishing this time of year. The back of the foal lying on the ground has the patina – its surface colorant – nearly removed due to all the admiring tourist bottoms that slide and sit on it.

Personally, I cringe a bit when I see a child clamoring up the side of Whinny, only because I think of those metal rivets on their cute little jeans scratching Whinny’s back. When I stated my concern, Carol Martin, founding member of the Durango Public Art Commission, offered, “The artist and sculpture’s owners really love the attention that the ponies get from the community and visitors. The wear that occurs is all part of the artwork’s natural aging process.”

I also have noticed that “Puck,” Elizabeth MacQueen’s virile bronze sculpture on display just north of the Durango Arts Center, has been the object of some flirtatious caresses, as the spring warmth brings out friskiness in young college women. The life-like nature of Puck’s bronzed anatomy, exemplified by the ripples in his masculine chest, must have been the inspiration for one young coed to explore for “anatomical correctness” under his leaven loincloth. From my own investigation, I can report that MacQueen left out certain realistic details unnecessary for Puck’s overall emotive quality.

“Puck,” a mischievous character from Shakespeare’s play, “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is a social barometer of sorts. The sculpture has been adorned with a Santa’s hat around the holiday time and has had a Frisbee balanced on his finger in the heat of summer. I wonder if artist MacQueen knew that her sculpture would elicit such prankish responses?

I once considered these behaviors to be signs of irreverent and careless attitudes towards art … adorning, touching, climbing, etc. Today, I consider “Puck” and “Whinny and Friends” very successful pieces of art, which have taken on lives of their own. It seems that these sculptures are part of our community’s fabric and they invite interaction – as long as no harm is done.

“Whinny and Friends” and “Puck” are two of five bronze sculptures that are on long-term loan to the city by an anonymous local collector. Another of MacQueen’s sculptures, “Mudra,” the leaping ballet dancer near the intersection of Second Avenue and Seventh Street, and “My Children,” a touching mother-and-child motif by Allan Houser placed in front of the Durango Public Library, are also part of the loaned artworks. The last work, “Life Wall,” by Willa Shalit, has not yet been put on public display. The sculpture consists of a series of cast bronze faces, arms and legs that will be mounted into a wall or other architectural feature at the new library building, according to Martin, chairperson of the Public Art Commission.

These sculptures, as well as four other large sculptures, comprise the City of Durango’s public art collection. The only indoor artwork, a mobile by Metja Swift, hangs high in the Durango Rec Center. The others are placed in city parks: J. Gunnar Anderson’s tree-like sculpture, “Celebrate!,” located in Schneider Park, is getting some competition from the living trees as they celebrate their new growth. Mick Reber’s abstract horse-and-rider sculpture, “On Parade,” and Clyde Doney’s realistic portrayal of two miners reside in Santa Rita Park.

The volunteer commission has been funded through a line item on the city’s budget to purchase/commission new public works. Currently, the commission has put out a call to artists in La Plata County for a sculptural work commemorating the 125th anniversary of Durango. The commission’s budget also covers insurance for the artworks as well as maintenance costs for the existing sculptures. Due to pollution and oxidation, annual cleaning and waxing of the bronzes are necessary. Martin has taken on the task, and she and a city employee have cleaned and waxed all of the outdoor sculptures in the collection.

Martin truly enjoys her work on the commission. As an artist and jeweler, as well as the former owner of Martin+Roll Gallery, creativity and art are essential aspects in her world. She is happy to be back in the public arena, serving in what she considers to be an important realm of community life. “My involvement with the Public Art Commission is my way of giving back to this community. The city has been wonderful to work with in bringing public art to Durango, which encourages art awareness and a better understanding of the role of art in a society.”

For more information about the Public Art Commission’s call for public artworks, contact the City Manager’s Office at 375-5005 or go to www.durangogov.org.