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Deteriorating carvings raise questions about future

 

November 27, 2019 | View PDF

Amy Scanes-Wolfe

One hundred and fifty years ago, we weren't the only place named Niwot.

Chief Niwot--or Left Hand--was an Arapaho chief. He was a skilled linguist, a visionary, and a constant advocate of peace. He made such an impression on the local settlers that a mine, an inn, and two towns claimed his name. The mine closed, the inn is gone, and the other Niwot changed its name to Altona to appease the postman.

In the end, we are the only town that bears the name Niwot. So it is fitting that the first thing you see driving into Niwot is three spectacular wooden sculptures honoring the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

But closer inspection reveals an alarming truth--these sculptures are deteriorating before our eyes.

According to Chuck Klueber of the Niwot Business Association, the problem is the trees themselves. "[The trees] absorb lots of water through their roots," Klueber said. Even though the trees are dead, the roots continue to siphon water into the sculptures. They are rotting from the inside out, a problem compounded by carpenter ants.

Of course, these trees also provided the original inspiration for the sculptures. Boulder County owns the strip of land they occupy. According to Tim Wise, who was on the original sculpture committee, "They were concerned there would be issues of safety." The trees had to come down, and the community spotted an opportunity in the stumps.

Diane Atwood headed up a committee that included Tim and Carrie Wise, Mike Anfinson, and Liz Darling. Niwot Prairie Productions, Liz Darling's non-profit organization, took over management of the sculptures. They settled on a Native American theme and soon found the sculptor for the job--Eddie Running Wolf.

Eddy Running Wolf completed the first carving, Spear Lodge Man, in 2008. "He hit the grand slam home run of art," said Wise. "We are thankful that he was the one who was able to do it."

The Eagle Catcher was next, followed by Cheyenne Holy Man.

Though Running Wolf was the sculptor, many community members have touched the space.

Quinn Kalinski was a high schooler when the sculptures were completed. "I was looking for an Eagle Scout project," he said. And he found the perfect opportunity in constructing a footpath and peace garden to connect the sculptures--"so people could appreciate the detail and read the plaques without destroying the grass." Other scouts picked up where he left off.

The sculpture garden also memorializes Liz Darling, who died in December 2015, with a plaque and stone bench.

So what to do about the deteriorating statues?

The artistic rights for the statues belong to Niwot Prairie Productions. Though Mike Anfinson of Niwot Prairie Productions no longer lives in the area, Klueber said, "He's very supportive of anything we would like to do to preserve the carvings."

According to Kleuber, the best way to prevent rot would be to cut the sculptures at the base, elevate them, and provide some sort of shelter. The Niwot Local Improvement District would likely be asked to fund such an operation.

It is a good option for The Eagle Catcher and Cheyenne Holy Man, but Spear Lodge Man may already be too far gone. Klueber suspects that the warrior's head can be salvaged, but not the horse. Fortunately, a 3D scan of the sculptures leaves the options open for future reproductions.

The discussion about the sculptures brings up a larger discussion about the future of the entire space. Though the county owns the land the sculptures inhabit, the grassy strip to the south is the property of the Cottonwood East Homeowners Association. There is talk of expanding the sculpture garden into that space to help connect Old Town Niwot with Cottonwood Park. "We don't want it to be over-built, we just want it to be a nice place and a connective point between this portion of town and Cottonwood," said Wise.

Old Town resident Karen Andres-Lumpe also sees an opportunity for us to consult with the Arapaho nation in our plans to move forward. "This is way bigger than the sculptures," said Andres-Lumpe. "It is a question of how do we honor the Arapaho with something other than the sculptures, which have a finite life."

 

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