Vandalized rock etching repaired

Crew members work on repairing the Otto rock.

John Otto’s “Rock of Ages” got the granitic equivalent of a delousing Monday, but the cleanup of vandalism won’t go back on public display anytime soon.

Two employees of Carlson Memorials Inc., 237 South Ave., scraped, chiseled and water-blasted grout-like material smeared across the polished faces of the rock, which was fashioned at the behest of Otto in 1915.

Otto’s offense in commissioning his “Rock of Ages” was etching it with swastika-like symbols that are sometimes mistaken for the symbols appropriated by the National Socialists, or Nazis, two decades after Otto had the stone carved.

Vandals last month smeared the symbols with a latex polymer substance used in placing tiles, Tyler Morris said as he chipped away at the gunked-on mess to reveal a star carved into the rock’s north side.

Much of the reverse swastika symbol already had been revealed as Morris scraped and sometimes pounded at particularly stubborn bits with a chisel and hammer.

Morris and his co-worker, Bryan McClaskey, worked through Monday morning.

The symbol used by Otto is one with Native American roots, with no relationship to the Indo-European symbol appropriated by the Nazis in the 1930s, said David Bailey, curator of history at the Museum of the West.

The four legs of the symbol Otto used were to show the four directions in balance, Bailey said.

Hammering free some of the rock-hard, mortar-like material was no simple task, Morris said.

“That’s how they used to do it,” Morris said of stonecarving, “beat it, then turn it,”  he said, whacking the chisel, turning it half a turn and smacking it again, knocking off a chunk.

Museum officials two weeks ago found the rock vandalized at the main entrance to the downtown Museum of the West, 422 Ute Ave., and officials have decided to take it out of the public eye, Bailey said.

Grand Junction Pipe and Supply is to move the 5,000-pound rock into storage — and beyond the reach of the vandal’s trowel.

Otto’s “Rock of Ages” eventually will be returned to public display inside the museum, with full interpretation explaining its history and symbology, Bailey said.

It’s ironic that Otto commissioned the rock to celebrate the 1915 World’s Fair, or Panama Pacific International Exposition, to commemorate the advances of mankind, Bailey said, “and it got vandalized by someone who probably never read a history book before.”


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