Some residents don’t appreciate being mooned by new artwork
The town of Silt has become the butt of jokes in recent weeks all because a new sculpture at the town’s entrance depicts a rock climber’s bare bum.
After the sculpture’s unveiling in late August — a rendition of large rock decked with wildlife, a fly fisherman, a coal car and a cougar perched atop — it’s the backside of a nondescript human figure climbing its west flank that’s been in the national media spotlight.
Residents in the small town of about 2,500 are divided on whether the sculpture, commissioned by the city, in the town’s roundabout is too cheeky.
“I have friends in San Diego and Nevada, and they said they saw a story about Silt,” said Poke Stiers, who owns the shop Tim’s Tools, near the sculpture. “I said, ‘Was it about our roundabutt?’ ”
The national spotlight is good for the town, which has felt the effects of the energy industry slowdown, Stiers said. He recently watched as a busload of tourists stopped and got out to gawk and take pictures of the au naturel climber. Because of all the attention, Stiers said he has plans to draw up and sell T-shirts referring to the nude climber.
“We like the cheeks!” he said. “We just think it’s awesome!”
Since the day the sculpture was unveiled, Aug. 21, it has produced heated exchanges, said Tarran Downing, 18, who works within view of the piece.
“People say, ‘What’s up with the naked guy?’ ” she said, working from the deli at Go-Fer Foods. “I had a lady come in here and say nudity does not belong in public. She got really mean about it.”
Designs on the sculpture were no surprise to city officials, Mayor David Moore said. The 14-foot-high, 10-foot by 10-foot sculpture created by artist Blaine Peters of Rifle was the winning entry, chosen from 30 artists who vied for the work.
The 10,000-pound statue made of steel, Styrofoam and concrete was purchased for $10,000 and included in-kind donations from local electricians and other workers who installed the piece.
A roundabout committee, made up of representatives from local Cactus Valley Elementary School, chose the design in the spring. By the end of June, a miniature replica of the statue was approved by town trustees, Moore said.
“When we approved it, not one person objected to it,” Moore said. “The day that it was unveiled, I got a phone call from a schoolteacher that three of her male students said it looks like a guy is humping a rock or he forgot to put his clothes back on after a shower.”
“We’ve been made aware we could be made the butt of attacks,” Moore continued, laughing.
“You’d be surprised about all the idiomatic cliches about it. It’s a real piece of art. It depends on what you want to zero in on. Evidently, some people only zero in on the backside of this man.”
The figure has no face, hands or feet, and has no features that would distinguish it as either a man or woman.
Peters, who owns Rock Work Unlimited in Rifle, said he was out of town when the controversy bubbled up and was shocked to hear that some people found it offensive.
“It’s just a human form, that’s all it is,” he said by phone from California. “What really bothers me is I tried so hard to make that rock climber look good and get the dimensions in line.”
Peters said it’s ironic that the climber irks some people, because he initially considered making the rock climber female to offset the male fly fisherman. He chose not to make the figure female because it would include making breasts.
Peters, who travels extensively for his work — including making sets for Disneyland and Disney World — said he entered the contest to garner some publicity.
The piece, called “Silt in a Roundabout Way” is largely a donation to the city, valued at about $35,000, he said.
Since the dust-up, Peters has gotten more visits to his Web site in the past few weeks than he received all year, though he hasn’t received any more queries for work.
“I’m truly amazed that it’s gotten all the attention it has,” he said. “If it showed up in Los Angeles or Denver. it wouldn’t have been a big deal. That might be part of the reason; it’s in a small town.”
In the two town meetings after the sculpture’s unveiling, local resident Forrest Jacobs complained about the nude climber and claimed that others in town also were offended by it, Moore said.
Moore said he encouraged Jacobs to gather signatures on a petition and the city would determine what to do next if enough residents signed the petition.
That might include putting a question to voters about filling in the crack of the climber’s buttocks, “what seems to be the most controversial part,” Moore said. He said the city would not consider removing the sculpture entirely.
Jacobs did not return calls for this story.
In the past few weeks, someone taped Hawaiian shorts to the climber’s rear and, more recently, residents awoke on a Saturday morning to see the climber dressed in a pink bikini.
City officials removed the clothing.
Moore joked that Rifle’s Mayor Keith Lambert ribbed him that the climber’s rear is mooning Rifle. “The least you could have done is face it toward Glenwood Springs,” Moore said he heard from Lambert.
Sooner or later, the jokes will subside, Moore said. “We don’t want to bring tourists in under the guise of some man’s butt crack,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s taken media calls about the bare-skinned climber from around the state and nation. He was astonished during travels over Labor Day weekend to hear talk of Silt’s statue while in Ouray.
It’s not uncommon for motorists to drive around the roundabout more than once, slowing to nab a view of what may be the most talked about tush in town.
On Wednesday afternoon, a sedan full of people drove around twice, then stopped briefly beneath the climber’s booty to snap a few photos before blasting back onto Interstate 70.
“A lot more of the males don’t like it than females,” Downing said, taking a break from making sandwiches across the street.“I didn’t think it would escalate this far. It’s never about anything else. It’s just about the butt.”