A tribute to Emily Keyes: Sculptor inspired to get involved
MARBLE – The grinder buzzes to life and Greg Tonozzi is quickly surrounded in a haze of marble dust. Emily Keyes wasn’t on his mind as he focused on the marble bench.It’s been 358 days since Emily Keyes was killed by a lone gunman inside Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo.Today, Tonozzi will travel to Bailey and help install his tribute to Emily outside the high school where she died. A tribute to a young girl known for her smile and bright personality. A girl who sent one last cell phone text message to her parents, pecking out “I love you guys.”It’s been a long few months but Tonozzi, his graying hair pulled into a ponytail covered with dust, says it’s been a very worthwhile journey.”It’s not a matter of the work, it’s the matter of Sculptor: see page 2opening your heart up to do something like this.”When Tonozzi took on the project, he never considered charging for his work. “There’s no way anyone could pay me to do this.”Grabbing a quick lunch and a break from the marble, Tonozzi’s philosophical side gurgles out. He talks about what inspires him – jazz, books, religion – then he speaks of the young girl taken from the world too soon.It’s thoughts of Emily that make the project not feel like work.Tonozzi says he’s simply the man who applies the tools to the stone. The project, the art belongs to many, he says.
At the start of the summer, members of Emily’s family, including her mother Ellen and brother Casey, and some of her high school friends came to Marble to talk about the vision of the sculpture. They also helped pick out the marble that will serve as a tribute to Emily and a reminder of the frailty of life.Tonozzi said he was moved by the strength of Emily’s family.”They’re really some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. To go through what they’ve gone through and still be so positive. They’re trying to break the cycle of violence,” he says.When describing the bench, Tonozzi is careful with the words he uses. The bench is a combination of polished and rough marble.The contrast is stark by design.Tonozzi strolls through his 2-acre property, talking about life, art and dreams. He talks about the world today and the violence that shakes its foundation and brings people to their knees.Gandhi and John Lennon – men of peace – drift into the conversation, then he stops, remembering the contrast of the former Beatles’ life and death.A man of peace who suffered a violent death.Tonozzi’s thoughts return to Emily.He hopes his work will do justice to her young life and tragic death.”The contrast,” he explains, “is about life and death.” He hesitates. “I’m not sure I want to put it that way.””It’s about being comfortable one minute and …” he stops again. “It shows that there are rough spots and smooth spots in life.”He’s satisfied with that description.
The bench will be part of a garden surrounded by trees. Tonozzi said the goal was to keep it simple. His hope is very distinct.”We wanted to give people a place where they can stop, contemplate and keep Emily in their hearts,” he says.Again he thinks of Emily and Sept. 27, 2006, and her family.”Their strength is so special. To still have faith in life. They’re doing so much to break the cycle of violence.”A unique part of the sculpture will be a short, hollow marble column that will allow people to leave notes and messages for Emily.He uses the word peaceful when talking about this work.”I hope it creates a peaceful setting. One where people can contemplate.”At 60 years old, Tonozzi says he’s reached a point where contemplation is a big part of his life.”I’m in the twilight of life … Well, if it’s not twilight, it’s past 6 o’clock,” he says with a grin.Tonozzi’s grin arrives when he gets philosophical. Leaving one to wonder when he’s serious and when he’s having fun. He talks of the characters of Marble, possibly not even realizing he’s one himself.At 5-foot-4 Tonozzi’s powerful forearms are a byproduct of years working stone. Calling himself a “former Catholic,” he says he now dabbles in a “hodgepodge of religions,” and hopes to create his own someday – “The bad Hindus.”The grin returns.As an artist he knows the battle for inspiration can be rugged.
“People think you can just turn it on but it’s not always there. But,” the grin appears, “when (inspiration) happens, it’s religious.”There was concern over taking on Emily’s project. Would the inspiration arrive?It did. Emily and her family made sure of that.Tonozzi discovered stone carving when he took a class in the Hotel Colorado in the early 1970s, shortly after arriving from Minneapolis, Minn.”I knew the first time I touched a stone that this is what I wanted to do.”When he took on Emily’s project he knew it would be emotional at times.The inspiration was easy, the work difficult and the satisfaction enormous.”This one,” he says about what work he’s most proud of. “This is really special.”The grin is gone as his thoughts return to Emily.On a day postcard photographers dream of, more than 12,000 pounds of marble was loaded onto a truck and taken to Bailey.To many the memory of Emily Keyes will never drift away like marble dust in a gentle breeze. For others there will now be a marble reminder of a girl who died as her life was just getting started.Tonozzi is proud of his work. He’s also sad when he thinks about the violence that led to this project.The contrast is stark and poignant.No words are needed.
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.