Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

New outdoor art gives shopping plaza splash of color

outdoor artwork

This Susan Cooper piece, made of aluminum with powder-coated paint baked into it to withstand the weather, is a representation of the Chamberlin Observatory amid a canopy of trees. The scaffolding above the piece holds lights and the piece protrudes 7 inches from the stucco wall. PHOTO BY: Richard Chapman.

A garden of colorful public art with DU as one of the themes was unveiled Oct. 10 on a busy commercial corner of Colorado Boulevard that the University once owned.

The $250,000 splash of free-standing and wall sculpture is intended to dress up the revamped shopping plaza between Buchtel Boulevard and East Evans Avenue. The art is on each of the plaza’s three sides, is lighted and is positioned in ways to be vibrant by day and a snap of exotic color by night.

“All these pieces have their times of day,” says Hoang Duong, architectural designer for Evans Street Partners, which purchased the former Albertson’s supermarket that operated on the corner since 1968. Evans Street bought the property, redesigned it and brought in Office Depot, Vitamin Cottage, Wells Fargo, Verizon and early next year a Pei Wei Asian Diner. Pei Wei is a counter service diner owned by P.F. Chang’s. DU relinquished the property in the mid-1980s.

The public art includes four major parts: two 128-square-foot photographs of galloping horses etched on black granite by Pamela Mougin; a garden of 18-to-21-foot purple thistles by Chris Weed; four 4-by 6-foot wall panels of trees in season by Susan Cooper and a 12- by 24-foot representation of the Chamberlin Observatory amid a canopy of tall trees, also by Cooper.

The public art was a gift from developer Jeff Oberg, who selected Mougin and directed a panel of University Park residents to choose two other artists. The selections came from 120 artists who applied.

Wells Fargo selected the horse photos that Mougin used for her marble etchings, ironically picking a horse named “Money” for the etching that is mounted on the Colorado Boulevard wall of their bank.

Cooper chose trees as her theme after scouting University Park and noticing the stately, century-old trees in Observatory Park.

“I was looking for the gems of the neighborhood and [Chamberlin Observatory] was gem No. 1,” Cooper says. “Trees area symbol of life and the neighborhood.”

Weed selected thistles as his theme after coming upon a field of them while on a hike.

“They were purple and just beautiful,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, it would just be great to do these oversize elements you could walk through and underneath.’”

The result was a garden of giant thistles overshadowing a contemplation plaza with a brick walkway and concrete benches near the southwest corner of Buchtel and Colorado boulevards. The oversize “organic elements” are titledSerenity and comprise 18 powder-coated, purple spheres containing more than 10,000 spikes and mounted on stainless steel rods embedded in underground concrete caissons.

“You’ve got this congested corner here and the whole idea is to lose yourself even if just for a brief moment,” Weed says. “Just standing underneath these things it seems quieter.”

Lights illuminate the thistles at night. Weed, a public artist from Colorado Springs, loves the result even though the thistles that his sculpture resembles are regarded by the Department of Agriculture as an invasive species the state is battling to control.

For her etchings, Mougin photographed horses on a ranch in Eagle. The marble etched horses are in concrete frames behind the Wells Fargo and Verizon Wireless buildings and can be seen from Colorado Boulevard.

Mougin is a renowned photographer best known for shots of celebrities such as Sheryl Crow and Eddie Murphy in addition to calendars she produced for the Denver Broncos cheerleaders and Denver Nuggets Dancers. The horses are her first public art commission.

“On a cloudy day it has the look of an old glass negative, but morning light and from sunset to evening it has this amazing contrast and shows up so much better,” she says.

“At night the horses will really pop out,” Duong adds. “Also in the morning. When the sun passes the building, you won’t see it anymore.”

Cooper’s tree panels, titled The Seasons, are on the north side of 3970 Buchtel Blvd., which Pei Wei will occupy next year. The panels are lighted by neon bulbs recessed into the frames that bathe the art in color at night. The larger panel of Chamberlin Observatory is on the south wall of the Office Depot building and visible from East Evans Avenue. It also is lighted. The combined works are titled Observation Points.

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