Forward to the past
Westside artist’s contemporary/historic sculpture to be erected outside Pioneers’ Museum

       A modern work that tells about the past.
       This was the challenge that Westside sculptor Harriet Lee faced in conceiving “Follow the Setting Sun” for the El Paso County Pioneers' Association.
       The 16-foot-high, pyramid-style stainless steel sculpture, which will be erected this fall on the east side of the Pioneers' Museum in downtown Colorado Springs, will feature the effect of a sun within a mountain. The mountain's “sides” will be etched with scenes from Pikes Peak region history. Surrounded by benches, planters and pavers, the sculpture will be lit at night.
       “I wanted to capture the pioneer spirit, but I wanted a more contemporary piece as opposed to a Conestoga wagon,” Lee said. “And I liked the idea of large, strong, big images, with silhouettes that catch people's attention so they ask, 'What is that?'”
       The mountain is “more or less Pikes Peak,” she said, and the sun in the center of it exemplifies the setting sun that served as a beacon to 1800s-era American travelers as they followed Horace Greeley's famous urging: “Go West, young man.”
       “It's a pretty exciting project,” said Chrys Fotenos, an Association board member who is managing the effort. “It represents the pioneer spirit of the Pikes Peak region.”
       The Association is hoping to cover some of the $275,000 project cost (which includes long-term maintenance) from people paying for space on benches, planters or pavers, on which will be etched their family names and dates of arrival in the region.
       “It's pretty interesting,” Lee said. “Even if you moved away and came back, you still have ownership in the town. This is especially important today, when people have so few roots.”
       The project dates back to 1997, when Pioneers' Association President Forest Porter proposed a monument to regional pioneers. A design contest led to 45 entries.
       The winner was Lee, a long-time sculptor with works in Aurora and Alamosa and various corporate buildings. Her best-known local work is at the Deaf and Blind School - a replica of six children holding hands. “That was a fun thing to do,” Lee recalled. “I tried to make it tactile so that even the ones who couldn't see could come up to it and touch it.”
       Lee grew up in Alamosa, with other stints in New Mexico and Ohio. She's lived and worked on the Westside for about 16 years.
       In “Follow the Setting Sun,” the mountain will consist of four angled legs (or posts) that come to a point at the top. Down each leg will be a panel of chronological images telling the region's story. Panel 1 starts with Native Americans and continues through Gen. William Palmer and his era to about 1900.
       Panel 2 goes up through the '30s, including Spencer Penrose, the tuberculosis sanitoriums and area farming.
       Panel 3 covers to the '60s, providing such scenes as the old courthouse, the Cotton Club, high school football, Fort Carson and area ranching.
       Panel 4 takes viewers to the present, including depictions of Broadmoor skaters, the Air Force Academy, balloon festivals and cell phones.
       Modern techniques will be used in the construction. Having drawn the panel images, Lee will trace them into a software program (AutoCad). The program's data will provide precise directions to a large mechanical device called a water-jet cutting tool, which will perform the actual carving into the steel posts. The same tool will cut out the individual rays and the half-circle of the sun. The “rest of the pieces will probably be sheared out with a large shear,” Lee said.
       When complete, the sculpture will weigh several tons - each leg alone will weigh 1,500 pounds - and will be assembled on site. The plaza will be 30 feet by 30 feet. The sculpture will be in the middle of the plaza - 28 feet long by 12 feet wide by 16 feet high.
       The goal is to have the whole presentation in place sometime this winter. Other aspects include pouring concrete for the plaza, setting 200 tiles, placing granite blocks, securing electricity for the lighting and resetting sprinkler heads, Lee pointed out.
       “I've become more of a project manager” than an artist, she joked. “Fifteen minutes of inspiration, and three years of getting it done.”
       But it will all be worth it in the end, Pioneers' Association members appear certain. The group's brochure on the project reads, in part, “It is our belief people today and in future generations will come to regard [the sculpture] with a fondness reserved for those 'special things' which best define our city and its people.”

Westside Pioneer article