Surls sculpture to be installed today in Carbondale roundabout |

Surls sculpture to be installed today in Carbondale roundabout

James Surls shows off the model and moulds for "Sewing the Future" at a community meeting in July.
Staff Photo | Contributed Photo

The most prominent and controversial element of Carbondale’s new roundabout wasn’t present when it opened to through traffic last month, but “Sewing the Future,” a 20-foot tall bronze and steel sculpture by James Surls, is scheduled for installation Thursday.

The roundabout is expected to remain open with traffic control while the piece is put in place.

“I am extraordinarily proud of the piece. I think it’s one of my best,” Surls said. “I’m very glad I did it.”

Surls, an internationally recognized artist from East Texas with work at the Smithsonian Institution, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art in New York and in major private collections, moved the Roaring Fork Valley in 1997 with his wife, Charmaine Locke, also a well-recognized artist, to raise their seven daughters.

It’s Surls’ first piece in the Rocky Mountains and one of the few he’s chosen not to make a profit on.

“I’m very, very selective about what I donate to. I give to what I believe in,” Surls said. “Carbondale is my hometown. I didn’t grow up here, but I have been here almost 17 years, and I don’t plan on leaving. I absolutely love it,”

The piece was selected in a 6-0 vote by the town trustees in July 2013 after Surls offered to donate his labor. 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.

When a model of the design was released, however, the selection process came under criticism. Some objected to the piece itself, while others thought the public should have had more input.

Mayor Stacey Bernot didn’t agree.

“There was nothing that we did intentionally to keep the public out,” she said at a meeting over the summer. “We pass budgets that impact every citizen and every visitor in this town and nobody shows up.”

Added trustee Allyn Harvey, “Ultimately it is a gift, and it’s a generous gift.”

Surls said most locals with whom he has spoken have reacted positively to the piece. As for the rest, he tries not to take it personally.

“This is a very positive community effort. I think people really wanted to support it,” he said. “Once you enter into the public arena, there’s always somebody who wants it and someone who doesn’t.”

A public outreach effort led by Connie Calaway and Sue Edelstein has endeavored to alleviate concerns and share the piece’s meaning, including artistic elements including the vase, the flower, the crystal, the tree, the knot and the needles.

“It’s an abstract peace, but it’s very symbolic of the things that are important in this area,” Edelstein said. “I continue to hope that people will continue to be educated about what it is and relate to it. It is very important to us that this be a sculpture that physically and emotionally belongs to Carbondale.”

Outreach has also helped fundraising to cover the $200,000 cost of materials, casting and fabrication, of which Connie and Jim Calaway contributed half. Other major donors include Sara Ransford, Sandy and David Burden, Sue Anschutz Rogers, Alpine Bank, Susan and Larry Marx, Larry Cohen, First Bank, and Sue Edelstein and Bill Spence, with in-kind services from Robert Singer & Associates Lighting Consultants, Colin Laird and Roaring Fork Community Development, Jaywalker Lodge, and Footsteps Marketing. The Town of Carbondale is contributing the landscaping, installation and annual maintenance.

Their efforts met and exceeded their goals. The surplus will be used to cover unforeseen expenses, and any money left over will supplement the town’s efforts at landscaping.

No ceremony will accompany the sculpture’s installation, which is not a public event.

“It’s a construction zone,” said Town Manager Jay Harrington.

Instead, a public dedication is planned as part of the Art aRound Town celebration Friday, June 5, 2015, once the lighting and landscaping is fully completed.

What locals will think of the sculpture once it’s in place remains to be seen.

“If it doesn’t provoke reactions, it may not be doing its job,” observed Edelstein.

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