?A fish story?
The community begins work on river trail's ?Trout Wall?

Local students get their hands on the “Trout Wall” art mural. The public art piece will eventually be located along the Animas River Trail just south of the Main Avenue underpass./Courtesy photo

by Jules Masterjohn

or years, I have believed a fish story. Like many others, it was my belief that some aquatic species only grow to the size of their environment. One of the most commonly held myths about fishkeeping, according to most queried websites, this simply is not true.

A trip down to the riverside Durango Discovery Museum could challenge this newfound knowledge. Inside the behemoth under-construction structure, live three very large trout, spanning 10, 12 and 17 feet, which in their native habitat would only measure between 4 and 20 inches. Granted, this is no normal environment – there is no water and the fish are made of welded steel, shards of colorful ceramic tile, and rounded glass bits. They do appear to feel at home, lying comfortably on the large worktables within their temporary home. Before the end of June, they will make their way up river to live out the rest of their days on the shady banks of the Animas, as part of the “Trout Wall” art mural, Durango’s most recent addition to the city’s growing public art collection.

Until then, they will be in good company. Every few days, mosaic artist Mary Anne Griffin and designer Keith Walzak check in on the threesome. As members of The Arts Collaborative, the group of five local artisans who won the public art commission, they have a deep investment in the happiness of their fishy friends. “Trout Wall” will be sited on 70 feet of retaining wall along the Animas River Trail just south of the Main Avenue underpass, near the Signature Salon. It is the first commissioned piece of public art created for the Animas River Public Art Master Plan.

The larger-than-life trout are probably unimpressed

by their esteemed position in Durango’s public art scheme, perhaps more moved by the fun-loving pre-teens who have been spending their Saturdays with them. As I approached the Discovery Museum to catch a sneak peek at these enormous mosaic fish, youthful voices rolled out of the cavernous building. Closer, I heard, “F-I-S-H-Y…F-I-S-H-Y…F-I-S-H-Y and fishy was his name-o.” These river denizens are being immortalized, not only in metal and tile, but also in musical verse by a dedicated team of Durango youths.

The temporary workshop was filled with laughter, the eating of Rocky Mountain chocolates, a few dance steps, and some good-hearted teasing interspersed with the focus it takes to make a monumental mosaic mural. Two constant reminders by mosaic expert Griffin and Sandy Bielenberg, The Arts Collaborative’s “kid connection,” were repeated numerous times. “Don’t place too many really small tile pieces next to each other” and “If a piece

doesn’t fit, go find another one.” Emily Muller, who attends Miller Middle School, was particularly mindful of her mentors’ advice. “It’s like doing a puzzle. The pieces have to fit together just right for it to look good.”

It wasn’t surprising to find out that, among this group of spirited girls, the task they most enjoy is breaking up the ceramic tile. Donning safety glasses and gloves and hammer in hand, the girls took turns smashing the multiple colored tiles wrapped in a heavy towel. An occasional karate-chop grunt was uttered as more tile bits were made. The tile shards are the palette of colors and shapes from which the trout takes form and each shard is glued onto a plastic mesh fabric, fitted with puzzle-like precision. The completed tile-covered mesh sections will be affixed to their respective fish-shaped metal frames and the tile will be grouted.

Griffin explained that while the kids are learning design and the medium of mosaic, they have also learned about fish biology and Animas River habitat. A trip to the Colorado Division of Wildlife Fish Hatchery and a visit by a wildlife biologist was included in the team’s itinerary.

What is emerging from this collaboration in learning is a playful, sizable and impressive work of public art. The fish-shaped welded metal frames, created by Kelly Hurford and welding students at Ignacio High School, are fresh and flowing. The tile colors chosen by Griffin glimmer as if under water. The overall design by Walzak, picturing gargantuan trout, one of which is poised to eat a child-sized caddis fly, is almost surreal. The proposed landscaping will act like an extension of the adjacent riverbank, bringing the viewer into nature’s drama. The “Trout Wall” is an important milestone for our community, showing the caliber of vision, artistry and collaboration that is possible with public art.

Perhaps this kind of collaborative effort, one that brings together different generations and media, and involves science and art, speaks to the best that we can offer in terms of our community’s creativity. Society’s value in art has, for most of its modern history, been in the product. Today, we have the perspective to see that art engages us beyond its form – it asks us to trust, understand and value the process by which it was created. •



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