Best Seat in Woodland Park
by Rick Langenberg
Move over Salida, Taos and even Santa Fe—at least when it comes to public art displays or ideal places to hang out. A group of Woodland Park business leaders want visitors and tourists to take a seat on unique, specially-crafted art benches and chairs, while enjoying the great Pikes Peak scenery, or preparing to sample local shops and galleries or partaking in wine tastings. The new $40,000 “Best Seat in Woodland Park” endeavor, dubbed as the first community-wide public art project, could dot the downtown with striking images of mountain landscapes, wildlife, aspen trees, area musicians, historic buildings, Native American Indian scenes and a plethora of creative designs that many never imagined possible for Woodland Park. And if anything, they will offer the best outdoor seats in town.“We want to give people a reason to stay in Woodland Park. We want to give them a place to sit and enjoy the art of Pikes Peak,” said Ralph Holloway, one of the leading founders of the Woodland Park Arts Alliance (WPAA), which is spearheading the project. And that’s exactly what the project entails. Large traditional wooden benches and chairs, built by local woodcrafter Martin Wittebol, will be painted and designed by local artists, with a variety of themes. The benches and chairs, displayed in public areas, will be sponsored by a variety of local businesses, nonprofit organizations and service clubs.
A big “Paint the Town with Art Benches” gala is planned for late spring, when these prime seats in town will be exhibited. A big auction, when the art benches and chairs will be sold to raise funds for scholarship programs and arts projects, is slated for the fall of 2012. Already, the project has gained much momentum, with several key sponsors, including the Kristyn Cline Agency of the Farmers Insurance Group, the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company and the Pikes Peak Regional Medical Center Foundation, just to name a few. “We have had a lot of support for this public arts project,” said Holloway, who noted that many orders have already been made by local businesses.
One of the initial bench works is currently on display at Holloway’s Seven Arrows Gallery in downtown Woodland Park. That bench, featuring paintings done by Dale Pittock of Pittock Fine Art, showcases colorful Southwestern and Native American Indian-style scenes. However, the overall project is designed to incorporate a slew of themes, and not just represent one style of art work, according to Holloway. Also, certain groups and educational classes can participate in the final works.
In a larger sense, the WPAA founder equates the project to brandishing Woodland Park’s artistic sword “There is no reason we can’t be a Taos,” said Holloway, who has played a key role in promoting the arts in Woodland Park over the last five or so years. He was recently awarded the top Arts and Culture service award during the Teller County Cares ceremony, and was named as the new Wagon Boss by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce. The local business owner emphasizes that art represents a lot more than just the stereo-type images of art galleries and high brow paintings. “There are so many things that involve art. Art creates community,” said Holloway.
Moreover, he sees art and local cultural happenings as a great economic driver. In the last two years, Woodland Park has gained a niche as the best kept cultural secret in the high country with its hefty lineup of galleries and shops, monthly art walks and a growing collection of wine tasting/retail spots. Holloway sees the public arts project as another feather in the city’s artistic cap. A number of major cities often use public arts as a mini-draw or a side exhibit for museums or municipal facilities. Enhancing the cultural side of Woodland Park through better education and collaboration is a big goal of the Woodland Park Arts Alliance.
Another side project the Alliance is promoting involves expanding the Pavilion outside the Ute Pass Cultural Center for special events and performances. Holloway says the ultimate goal is to get more people to stay in Woodland Park. Like many local business owners, he still is frustrated by the town’s image as a drive-through area. As a result, the sight of 20-plus old-fashioned wood benches and chairs, donned with a plethora of unique landscape and wildlife paintings, may get visitors to think twice before heading up the mountains or to tour galleries in Salida, and can get them to stay longer in Woodland Park.
The project is still looking for sponsors and interested artists. The Alliance also assists with finalizing the art benches and chair works by doing professional clear-coating, using a two-part urethane process and related techniques. “Every effort will be made to preserve the original look of the piece by including a lighter barrier finish between the clear coat and the artwork of the bench/chair,” stated the WPAA in a description of the rules for submissions. The contest, which includes a deadline for completed benches and chairs by May 18, also includes several cash prizes.
The cost for sponsoring bench or chair, which comes with a special plaque and much publicity is $395 for a chair and $595 for a bench. Supporting and contributing sponsorships are also available.
For more information about the Best Seat in Woodland Park project, call Bonnie Sumner at 686-1465 or Suzanne Brown at 214-205-4454.