Learn the history of 20 public art pieces and meet the artists
By Kristy Acuff
It’s impossible to miss Sean Guerrero’s knight battling the dragon at Crested Butte’s entrance, but did you know that in addition to the chrome hero, there are 20 public art pieces in various venues scattered around town? Thanks to a newly published public art catalog, on the websites of the town of Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Creative District, visitors and locals can virtually tour all of the pieces and learn their history, as well as a bit about the artists behind the scenes. Local musician/teacher Karen Janssen researched and wrote the entries, while Xavier Fane photographed each piece.
“We wanted to have a good understanding of all of the public art in town,” says Mel Yemma, Crested Butte’s open space and Creative District coordinator. “We thought it would be really cool to look at the story behind all of the pieces so we hired Karen and Xavier to put this together.”
“People really like it when you take an interest in their art, so whenever possible, I talked directly with the artists to learn the backstory,” says Janssen. “There was some sort of story behind every piece and I tried to adapt my writing style to match the sculpture.”
The virtual catalog tour includes the intricate town benches, the Buddha head, Anima paintings and even a looming rhinoceros that came with the Whatever USA festival and still hasn’t found his way home.
“Xavi said he had never noticed the rhino before photographing it for this project,” says Janssen. “I suppose it is easy to miss but once you see it, you cannot believe you missed it for so long.”
Painted rhinos, chrome eagle heads, scrap metal spear-chuckers—these are among the many pieces that live among us, each with its own story.
“The late Andy Bamberg’s spear-chucker came to live in Crank’s plaza back in the day, when the process was more organic and less bureaucratic,” says Janssen. “Basically, Andy told then town manager Bill Crank he needed a place for the sculpture to live and Bill said, ‘Why don’t you put it in the town plaza?’ and so he did.”
According to the catalog, the first official public art piece appeared in Crested Butte in 1973 when six chainsaw artists, inspired by the times, carved a troll, a mushroom, and possibly a caricature of then-president Nixon into a totem pole that they predicted would stand five years at most. Thanks to a renovation, it still stands today, of course in Totem Pole Park by Coal Creek.
“What I learned about the Buddha head is really amazing,” says Janssen. “Blake Woodward of Mabuhay Imports brought it here where it was inscribed with Sanskrit prayers for Crested Butte by Karma Lama, a local resident [originally from Tibet]. There are numerous artifacts inside the base, including one that was blessed by the Dalai Lama before being gifted to Karma.”
Not even the public restrooms in Crested Butte go untouched by art, with Heather Bischoff’s ethereal, beloved portrait of an elk peering through aspens covered in newsprint gracing the walls in “Anima on Third Street.” Bischoff’s piece was commissioned by the Creative District in the fall of 2018.
Down the street in the Mallardi Theatre hangs the haunting steel line portrait made by local artist Ben Eaton in tribute to the 60 miners killed in the Jokerville Mine explosion, the third most deadly in Colorado history. The piece was commissioned by the town of Crested Butte as the inaugural installation using funding from the Arts in Public Places (AIPP) passed in June 2017 by the town of Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Creative District. The policy devotes 2 percent of funding for any capital project in the Creative District or a town park, to creating public art.
The public art catalog is a work in progress, with new installations coming as soon as this week to the newly renovated town park behind the Center for the Arts.
“We are hoping to unveil a new permanent piece in the town park sculpture garden this Thursday,” says Yemma. “The piece is ready to go, but has been delayed during construction. It is a giant dragonfly constructed from stainless steel and cast glass made by Amie Jacobson, an alumni of Western Colorado University. The glass tail and body of the dragonfly will glow at night, thanks to a light-up feature.”
In addition, starting in mid-September, the park will house two temporary sculptures, including a giant paintbrush from artist Neil Windsor and an interactive bike wheels sculpture made by Kate Davis that currently stands along the Sixteenth Street Mall in Denver.
Whether you are a longtime local or newly discovering Crested Butte, take a tour of the local public art at www.cbcreativedistrict.org/public-art-tour.