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Monumental achievement

Ryan Graff

Inside Mount Sopris about 100 feet an eagle’s head juts out from the rock wall. On a recent morning Jeremy Dean Russell stood next to it, wearing dusty black Carthart overalls and a hard hat. He’d come to the alabaster and black marble quarry off Avalanche Creek to show off “The Cost of Freedom Eagle” he’s spent the last four years carving. The project is nothing short of monumental. The eagle’s head protrudes an arching 50-foot depression in a wall of rock now covered in saw and chisel marks. The head is the only part of the eagle that is complete, but is exquisitely detailed, and looks real to life. The 50-foot arch will become the bird’s wings. “I saw the bird in the rock before we even started,” Russell explained. Russell’s partner in the eagle carving is Robert Congdon, who owns the quarry. The two met when Russell came to Congdon looking for a piece of alabaster to carve. They ended up walking in the quarry when Russell told Congdon, “I see an eagle coming out of the wall,” Congdon said. “I didn’t see it,” he said, but he agreed to let Russell have at his vision and since has seen it himself.”The Cost of Freedom Eagle,” is meant to honor veterans and their families. “It really has to do with every person that has sacrificed their lives, their spouses,” Russell said. “I think we take our freedom for granted way too much.”The desire to honor America’s service people (some of whom are Russell’s close friends and serving in Iraq right now), and create art are what keep Russell going in a task that could never end. The eagle, it turns out, is just the beginning of the plans the two have for the quarry.”I’m hoping to get artists from all over the world in here and take a section of the wall,” Russell said. He and Congdon envision an underground colony and gallery that traces the Roaring Fork Valley’s history, from miners and locomotives to dinosaurs. The White Banks, Alabaster and Marble Quarry, will hold the first underground sculptures in North America, Congdon said. “We’re three or four years into this and we’re really still at the beginning,” Congdon said. Russell and Congdon aren’t likely to give up though.In July, 1996 Russell rolled his car three times near New Castle on Interstate 70. Russell lost all of his memory from between the ages of 13 to the day of the accident, when he was 26, and eventually had to have his leg amputated.”You’re a dreamer, you’re an ideologist. You reach for things you’re never going to have,” a friend recently told Russell.But “I’m pretty independent, I’m pretty ornery,” Russell said as he headed toward the entrance to the quarry.”Doctors told me I’d never walk again,” he said hanging his hard hat on a hook by the door. Then he stepped carefully with a prosthetic leg from the quarry into the sunlight washing frost from the hill sides of Avalanche Creek. Russell and Congdon are holding an open house at the quarry from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. What: Freedom Eagle open houseWhen: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. SaturdayWhere: 10 miles west of Carbondale on Avalanche Creek. To get there head west on Highway 133 from Carbondale about 10 miles. Take a left at avalanche creek, then follow the signs to the quarry. Information: 927-8794


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