Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Out of the silence....

Gosh. More than a week of nothing much to say. Have I perhaps been kidnapped by aliens?

I think there's a lot going on... at least I'm plenty tired every night, so that's my assumption. Lessee... what's happening?

Talking about linocuts and trees with an Arts Center Board member and forester.

Last weekend the DM and I had Fun in the City. I have some work hanging at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Cañon City, which is about an hour from Salida and halfway between here and the Front Range city of Colorado Springs. We had the show opening to attend, long-neglected friends to visit in Springs and a need to do our part to support economic recovery, so made an adventure out of it.

The Fremont Center for the Arts is located in a former post office, complete with the back sides of old PO boxes facing the gallery space. The opening was well-attended, even by the local press, but what a surprise! The Center director approached me to ask if I actually lived in Salida (Chaffee County) or outside of it (Fremont County, where the Center is located). It seems the local reporter was interested in featuring my work in his story, but couldn't (or wouldn't) if I wasn't from Fremont County. I wasn't. No story.

I know that this sort of thing happens all the time, but I confess it took a few minutes to shake it off and not take it personally. Seems silly, doesn't it? (Both the incident AND my reaction.)

Following the opening, we wandered across the street to the Cañon City Library lawn, where a great little jazz combo was providing evening music. Two of the players had just graduated high school (!)... I never got the name of the group, but they were quite good. Swingin' tunes and a pistachio almond ice cream cone put ridiculous reporters right out of my mind.

Yesterday and today have been a whirlwind of meetings and projects. There are three different interp panel projects hovering on the brink of completion... sometimes it's agony to get the last little details tied up. This afternoon, however, we began installation of the new Collegiate Peaks Byway signs... here, some shots from the smelter site.

Chaffee County roads personnel doing the heavy work of installation.

I realize that from these pictures this location doesn't seem particularly scenic byway-ish. It's a crumbling industrial site. But these signs are placed at the base of an amazing structure that played an important part in local history, and it's on the National Register of Historic Places, to boot.

I got to help out with the complicated sliding-panels-into-place portion of the installation.

A 365-foot smokestack is all that remains of a huge smelting and refining operation built here in the early 1900s. The Denver and Rio Grande railroad came up the Arkansas River to transport ore during the gold and silver booms, and Salida was formed as a rail and merchant hub. At the time it was built, this smokestack was the tallest free-standing structure west of the Mississippi River.

There is, of course, controversy and intrigue surrounding the stack. The smelter originally had two shorter smokestacks, one 85-feet and the other 150-feet high. They belched toxic fumes across the valley. Crops and livestock sickened and died. There are stories that the company quietly paid "pollution vouchers" to compensate local farmers and ranchers, but eventually the problem became too widespread. Publicly the company claimed they built a higher stack to handle their increased workload, but privately they admitted it was to get the smoke higher into the air, where it would blow farther away and presumably become someone else's problem.

Some things never change.

The tall stack was built, but less than two years later the company was bankrupt and forced to close. The other buildings were dismantled, the bricks used to build several local homes and the machinery sold for scrap.

There were several attempts to tear down the tall stack in the years following, but in the 1970s locals mobilized to have the stack named an historic structure. It is now owned by the Salida Museum Association, which hopes to some day create a museum on the site.

Greater Arkansas River Nature Association Director Alison Ramsey, Salida Museum Association member Larry Kovacic, and Chaffee County Roads employees John Nelson and (uh oh, I don't remember) survey the installed signs at the base of the big stack.A portion of the smelter complex between 1917 and 1920.
Salida Regional Library Centennial Collection photo.

There's more going on, too, of course! Tomorrow I take down the show at Mother's Bistro in BV. (Held over an extra week because the next exhibition wasn't ready yet!) And we're well in to Alyson Stanfield's "Blast Off" workshop. She's keeping us plenty busy so far, with examinations of goals, visions, blockades, and today? Finances! Yikes! So far, so good, though. I think we're all learning a lot.


  1. Hi Sherrie - Just a comment/question on the Salida stack: while we were living in Salida I believe the stack had been designated as a superfund site - has it been cleaned up?


  2. That's a heck of a lot going on! You're allowed to collapse on the sofa once in a while.

    So local news really does mean local.

  3. Lindy, I think it depends on what you call "cleared up." It's been "mitigated," to the best of my knowledge. Folks are living in Smeltertown and the surrounding properties are in use. The library has a big, fat tome about the designation and its aftermath, but I confess I haven't taken the time to wade through it.

    Thanks for the collapse permission, Bronwen. (it still feels a little strange to call you that... like a betrayal of a superhero's secret identity!) I shall take you up on it shortly.