At a community meeting on Monday night, James Surls explained his process and addressed concerns over his planned sculpture “Sewing the Future,” which will be the centerpiece of a roundabout at Highway 133 and Main Street in Carbondale.
The piece was selected in a 6-0 vote by the town trustees in July of last year. Surls offered to donate his labor while fundraising would cover the cost of materials, eliminating the need for town funds. The idea had support from the Carbondale Public Arts Commission and, according to Town Manager Jay Harrington, even generated enthusiasm among Colorado Department of Transportation Engineers. The council chose to move forward without soliciting proposals from other artists.
Since the fundraising campaign began and renderings and a model of the design were released, the selection process has come under some criticism. Many felt there should have been more public input on a piece that is anticipated to measure roughly 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, will be prominently located at a major intersection, and has a material cost of $200,000, of which $165,000 has been raised.
Monday’s meeting didn’t turn back the clock or reverse the vote, but it did give around two dozen locals a chance to have their questions and concerns addressed.
After one tense moment in which a woman objected to the use of the word “voluptuous” to describe the sculpture, the tone of the dialogue was largely civil. Surls, who said the controversy caught him by surprise, described each artistic element: the vase, the flower, the crystal, the tree, the knot and the needles.
“These are old, tried and true symbols,” he said. “It all means something.”
Although the core element of his inspiration is “the relationship of people to people,” the exact meaning is up to the viewer.
“What I owe you as an artist is a doorway,” he explained. “I can’t hold your hand while you go down the path.”
Surls parried concerns that the sculpture is too similar to his other works by noting that most artists — he highlighted Mozart and Picasso — have a distinctive style without being redundant. He asserted that the bronze and steel construction will be extremely durable, and seemed unconcerned about vandalism. During 12 years of public art in Carbondale, there have been few instances of damaged art.
As for the sense that the piece may be hard to appreciate while navigating the roundabout or, worse, present a dangerous distraction, Surls seemed confident that folks would take the time to check it out while shopping or passing by on foot.
It is, he pointed out, quite different from the standard bronze animal present in many Western roundabouts.
“There are more bronze bears in Colorado than there are real bears,” he quipped.
Instead, Carbondale will host a piece which one attended called “ahead of its time.”
Whether that renders it out of touch or a monument to a cutting edge community is left to the interpretation of the viewer.