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STEVE WOOD ~ Spearheading Art of, by, and for the People
Colorado Springs Gazette; Feb 18, 2001; Ovetta Sampson
It's nose-dripping cold. The five kids, ankle deep in snow and huddled in a small corner of Memorial Park, shiver as they stare blankly at the thin reed of a man gesturing in front of them. The kids are from Workout Ltd., a kind of last-chance program for expelled youth. The man is Steve Wood, a Manitou Springs muralist and landscape artist.
"You are inspired," Wood is saying, gesturing toward Prospect Lake. He's pretending the empty expanse of white is a collection of concrete totem-pole-like statues. He wants the kids to form a human statue, to create with their arms and legs the sculptures they eventually will form with their bare hands and a little concrete.
"What are you going to make?" he asks them. "What are your pieces going to be?"
Wood tries to engage the kids. But on this day, in this moment, they're in no mood for his reindeer games.
"It's cold," 13-year-old Phi-lip Cowand says before he jets off to smoke a cigarette. Soon the kids are roughhousing, wrestling, shrieking, giggling. Wood shouts for focus.
Eventually, he will help these kids create and install a permanent sculpture for Memorial Park. Eventually, he will get them so energized about art that many of them will fall in love with it. Eventually, he will get them to create positivity in lives filled with challenges. Eventually.
He's done it before. Since 1990, Wood, a 38-year-old Colorado College graduate, has worked on more than 20 murals and art installations at schools, parks, city buildings and even a bus terminal in the Pikes Peak region. Many of his collaborators had never picked up a brush or played with clay.
Wood has made a career working with the public to create public art. Like other artists, he believes art has a place in the outside world, sans museum rope and tamper-proof glass. But unlike some others, Wood chooses to create public art with those the public ignores: troubled teens, the disabled, the poor and the disenfranchised. He tries to chisel beauty out of the ugliness of life.
"When you walk around in our environment, there's a lot of ugly things out there," Wood says. "When you get a chance to make art and (display it publicly) you make it a more humanizing environment."
Those who have worked with him say he succeeds.
"Steve is so good about bringing out good in these kids," said Mary-K. Burnett, project coordinator for the City of Colorado Springs. As a member of the Pikes Peak Arts Commission, an unfunded advisory board to the City Council, Burnett monitors Wood's multiple public art projects. "(He) focuses their energy into doing something for the community."
A love of land
Steve Wood was a dirty kid. Not that he didn't bathe, but growing up on two acres in the small university town of Kingston, R.I., Wood took advantage of the many opportunities there to experience the area's swamps, mountains and beaches. The youngest of five, Wood likened himself to a "dirty ol' hippie," playing in his family's garden, hiking, camping and bonding with the land. At the same time, Wood's mother, a grade school teacher, would take her children to museums and galleries in the big city.
But being an artist wasn't Wood's life dream. It was the land he loved, the dirt. As a teen-ager he took up rock climbing. His parents weren't thrilled, but they encouraged him to use his newfound love to help youth. So he held climbing workshops for kids.
"It was just what I was into. The last thing I thought I would ever do was be an artist," Wood said. The lanky man is lounging at a local coffee shop. He has artist - free-spirit, anti-establishment - written all over him: unruly curly hair, blond-streaked brown beard, mismatched casual clothes and a gray jacket with an almost imperceptible patch of duct tape on its collar.
"It was the 'Rocky' philosophy. Why would you create something that expresses you and then turn around and sell it? It would be disgusting."
So much for the art world.
Eventually, Wood left Kingston to attend Colorado College, majoring in geologic illustration. Eventually his focus changed to landscape art, combining his love of the land with drawing.
Eric Bransby, one of the city's foremost muralists, says Wood's understanding of architecture and the land makes him good technically. He's a craftsman and an artist - must-have qualities for a good muralist.
"He's not the traditional (art) student," said Bransby, who worked with Wood on several restoration mural projects around town. "A lot of students are not well-trained as far as the craft end of art is concerned. A mural's up there for a long time. If it goes to pieces in a couple of years, you're in trouble. You can't fool around with that stuff. It's got to last."
When Wood graduated in 1984, he began his love affair with public art in Colorado Springs.
A love of teaching
Although his parents paid for his college tuition, Wood still needed to eat. So he sold his talent, designing fliers for McDonald's or painting banners as a free-lance artist. He didn't own a car or have a steady job.
For five years after he graduated from college, Wood roamed. Then he met his wife, Laurie, a Cornell graduate with a steady job as a private school teacher. In 1992, the couple had a son, Jake.
Seeking to settle down, Wood scored a job with the national confidence-boosting wilderness camp Outward Bound. It was here that Wood developed an uncanny knack for teaching regular folks to release themselves through art. Outward Bound also allowed him to have medical insurance and pay the bills.
While his fellow counselors would gather their teams into semi- circles for the cathartic Tony Robbins-style self-affirmation, Wood would ask his team members to draw.
"It can be more liberating to draw a picture of what that experience is all about," Wood said. "Drawing is an easy way for people to open the door and express themselves and emotions."
Wood took this experience from Outward Bound and began using it in his art world.
A love of public art
Ever the outdoorsy one, Wood looked for opportunities to do his work in plain view. He apprenticed with Bransby and worked on high- profile projects, including restoration of a mural at Colorado College's Shove Chapel and the Will Rogers Shrine.
But Wood always was drawn to youth, and that land- ed him at the doorstep of Workout Ltd., a program for expelled students.
Stereotypes aside, Workout isn't exactly an art mecca. Teens who have been expelled for drugs, weapons, fights, gangs, and the like roam its halls.
They come to Workout, housed in a small office building on Tejon Avenue, for classes and then go to construction sites or public places to work off restitution for the crimes they've committed.
Students who qualify can volunteer to work on community projects, including artistic ones. Many students have worked with Wood to create murals, sculptures and other community installations. They must complete the program or they are in violation of their contracts with Workout.
Although the kids have wallowed in the bad, Wood says, they remain untainted, ready for the new.
"They're not at a jaded point where everything comes down to dollars and cents," Wood said. "These kids are lively. If you can see through all their craziness ... there are days they try your patience. Then there are days they're so sweet, you think, how did they get in here?"
A recent Tuesday afternoon was one of the sweet days. Five teens huddle at tables in the basement of Workout Ltd., cutting out foam models for their concrete sculptures. The kids are working with art students at Palmer High School who have volunteered their time.
Wood darts from table to table, checking that their structures will be sound enough to replicate in stone. He pushes them to think creatively.
Soon Brennan Lester, 13, comes up with an image of a head with five faces. The faces represent the different sides of youth in Colorado Springs. Wood gets excited and encourages the teen to continue.
Images of lightning bolts, soldiers, a curved road and unexplainable shapes are lined up, one white foam model after another.
Wood has done a half-dozen projects with Workout teens, including a stained-glass design that hangs above the entryway to the city's administration building.
For the kids, doing this type of public art allows them to plug back into society - a place many of them say they don't fit in.
"I felt I was kicked out of society as far as how I was treated," said Mitch Arellano, 16, who attends an alternative high school.
"(The projects) draw your attention away (from bad stuff) and put it toward something more useful and more gratifying. It gives me an opportunity to express my individuality, and it makes me feel like I'm actually going to go somewhere."
Wood is no saint. He admits he doesn't have the fortitude to work with troubled teens year-round. He does about two projects a year with them and then opts to do other public art.
But whether it's troubled kids or self-restrained adults, Wood says he loves creating art for and with the public.
"You could have hired an artist to do the stained-glass window (at the city building); it would have cost more," he said. "It would have come out quite a bit different. But I don't know if it would be better."
WHO: Stephen Wood AGE: 38
WHAT HE DOES: He's a muralist, landscape artist and public-art guru. Director of Public Art Associates. Wood has worked on nearly 17 public murals in the Pikes Peak region.
HOW LONG HE'S BEEN IN TOWN: He entered Colorado College in the early 1980s - he graduated in '84 - and has been in Colorado Springs since.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Steve Wood and teens from Workout Ltd. will create a permanent sculpture for Memorial Park. The sculpture, planned as a large, totem- pole-like structure with symbols carved in concrete, will be installed on the south side of the park near Prospect Lake and across the street from Zorbadillo's restaurant. The sculpture will be mixed media, made of ceramic, concrete, tile and glass. Students volunteer twice a week for seven weeks for about 32 hours to complete the project. The sculpture is scheduled to be cast in concrete on March 10. Installation will be shortly after. The structure will coincide with Parks Department plans for new landscaping in that area.
Wood and his company, Public Art Associates, received a $4,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and donations from local businesses, including Hugh M. Woods, Transit Mix and even other artists.
Manitou Springs artist Steve Wood, right, works with Derek Bass, 17, and Philip Cowand, 13, on a sculpture at Workout Ltd.; Brennan Lester, 13, works on a sculpture in an art class with Steve Wood at Colorado Springs' Workout Ltd.; Molly Van Wagner/The Gazette - Brennan Lester, a student at Workout Ltd., helps Manitou Springs artist Steve Wood, center, create a sculpture during class that will be displayed as public art.
Fountain of Fun Colorado Springs Awash in Amusing Watering Hole
Denver Post; Denver, Colo.; July 8, 2001; Claire Martin
The most popular guy in Acacia Park is goofy Uncle Wilber, who pops up regularly to show off his sousaphone and kinetic dancing skills before slowly descending to the subterranean lair where he stays between shows.
During these absences, he is missed but not mourned. The children and adults who gather at the fountain where the mechanical Uncle Wilber makes his appearances know he'll be back. Within an hour, he will ascend again, following the rising of his rotund blue umbrella, a Dalmatian-esque monkey, and the giddy sound track of tuba music that accompanies Uncle Wilber's computerized performances.
The Uncle Wilber Fountain is whimsical with color, a dramatic departure for a town that takes pride in being as conservative as a three-piece suit. The notion of a bright giant water toy didn't appeal to everyone here three years ago, when the private Smokebrush Foundation's Kat and Bob Tudor first pitched the idea of donating a kinetic sculpture to the city.
'Quite a few of the people who originally didn't like it came around, once they saw the fountain in action,' said City Council member Judy Noyes, who owns the Chinook Bookstore across the street from Acacia Park.
'I think it's a terrific addition, aesthetically. Art doesn't have to be somber and serious. And it's really turned around the whole ambiance of the park. It's changing the mood and spirit of a park that's had problems through the years.'
For years, Acacia Park was known as a hangout for transients, the homeless and drug dealers.
In May, when the fountain began operating daily, the park's onetime regulars began drifting away as more and more families showed up to watch the kinetic show and play in the water jets.
Some still stick around, watching the newcomers from a distance. Noyes and others hear stories about transients who use the fountain as an alfresco shower, 'but,' she says, 'that happens wherever there's public access to water.'
Most of the time, even on temperate days, the Uncle Wilber Fountain is overrun with children playing under its waterfalls or hopping among the geysers that erupt from the curbless foundation surrounding the platform. It's easy to spot first-time visitors: They're the ones studying the mosaic riddle that Manitou Springs artist Steve Wood installed under Uncle Wilber's pedestal.
Bob Tudor, who helped design the fountain, estimates between 200 and 400 children soak themselves under Uncle Wilber every day.
It was Tudor's own uncle, Wilber Fulker, longtime principal of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, who is the fountain's inadvertent namesake. When the Tudors first took preliminary models to Hydro Dynamics, a St. Louis business that designs, equips and installs fountains, the figure's head was different.
'But then that head fell off on the plane ride back to Denver, and we couldn't find it, so we opened our egg carton where we had alternate heads,' Tudor said.
'We stuck one of them on, and my wife and I said at once, 'That looks like Uncle Wilber!' It wasn't really conscious. He's a great guy. Not a celebrity or anything, but he is just the kind of guy everyone should have as an uncle. He knows how to fix your car. He knows games nobody's ever played before. And he really does play the tuba.'
Fulker, 82, is more interested in the fountain's engineering than he is in the role played by his name and face. At the sneak preview last September, Fulker eyed all the waterworks - more than 150 jets on the fountain alone, and even more pop-up jets on the foundation that fiber optic lights illuminate at night - and observed the fountain's keepers will be doing 'a vast amount of filtering' to prevent things from clogging.
If the pipes clog, or Uncle Wilber's computerized dance suffers more glitches, repairs are covered by the Friends of the Fountain fund. Under an agreement with the city of Colorado Springs, the Smokebrush Foundation and the Friends of the Fountain, the Uncle Wilber fountain was paid for with corporate and private donations.
'I'm amazed by how many people know about the fountain,' said Holly Parker, a Smokebrush Foundation staffer.
'I'm even more amazed by how many know that the music and kinetic show go off at the top of the hour. If you're downtown, you'll see people flocking to the fountain. I've heard that people on their way out of town stop here, along with people who don't usually come downtown because they think it's dangerous. I think it's the coolest place in the whole city.'
Making Waves 'Uncle Wilber' Plays with Water
The only known fountain of its kind in the country, and one some thought could never work, will be unveiled Saturday in Colorado Springs.
'Uncle Wilber,' named after the fountain's brightly colored tuba player, has been more than two years in the making, said Kat Tudor, who with her husband, Bob, designed the piece for the city's oldest park.
'This isn't like anything I've ever seen,' said Kerry Friedman, whose company, Hydro Dramatics of St. Louis, has been creating fountains for 30 years.
'This is different mostly because of the sculpture,' Friedman said. 'It's the only one I know of with a hydraulically operated figure. It's even lifted by water.'
When the water is off, Uncle Wilber is hidden inside what appears to be a giant, bright blue bubble. But as the water pulses into the fountain, he slowly rises from the mosaic concrete pedestal and begins to move and spout water.
The fountain is being donated to Colorado Springs by the Smokebrush Foundation. It was designed by the Tudors with the assistance of Hydro Dramatics, Scenic Technologies of Las Vegas and Colorado Architecture Partnership of Colorado Springs.
The pedestal mosaic was designed by artist Steve Wood and, like much of his work, incorporates nature, a bit of whimsy and a riddle.
Because it is water-driven, the motion of the fountain is somewhat erratic, a quality the Tudors wanted.
'When we looked at water and how it moved, we knew that's what we wanted to use,' Bob Tudor said. 'Several engineers we talked to said that was a nice idea, but they wanted to use pneumatics - air pressure.
'We didn't want something that precise and predictable. ... What we wanted to capture was the chaotic, ever-changing aspects of water.'
The nature of the sculpture fountain and its surrounding play area also have raised eyebrows in a city where horse-mounted bronzes are more the norm.
Some members of the city's park advisory board, for instance, were concerned that the sculpture was not appropriate in downtown's Acacia Park, deeded to the city by Gen. William Jackson Palmer in 1871.
Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, however, disagrees.
'I think it is just magnificent,' Makepeace said. 'I think history is terrific, but I think parks are for today's people.... I can envision (the fountain) being a very active place.'
While the fountain wasn't designed with Bob Tudor's own 'Uncle Wilber' Fulker in mind, it has ended up evoking Fulker, a tuba player and longtime teacher and principal at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Fulker, who played with the Colorado Springs High School Band at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, said he is intrigued by the fountain but thinks too much has been made of his place in it.
'I'm enough of an engineer to appreciate the vast amount of filtering they'll have to do - with all the kids playing there and to keep from jamming the jets,' said Fulker, 82, an inventor and mechanic.
The sculpture's motion, lighting, music, water patterns and choreography do not come simply. One of two underground vaults houses a computer, with a software program designed by Hydro Dramatics.
'It's an incredible machine, which we're still learning how to use,' said Bob Tudor, who, is a musician and an inventor like his uncle.
Once unveiled at 11 a.m. Saturday, the fountain most likely will be shut down and winterized, while the city finishes the surrounding play area. Next summer, the fountain will run continuously, with hourly appearances by Uncle Wilber.
Colorado Springs and its sister city in Mexico are in for an artistic collaboration.
Colorado Springs Gazette; Feb 16, 2000; Katie Johnston
Manitou Springs artist Steve Wood and architect and artist Francisco Jaimes Acuna from the northern Mexico city of Nuevo Casas Grandes are working together to create ceramic tile murals for both cities.
Acuna is in Colorado Springs this week, helping to present the project to Colorado Springs Sister Cities International and the Pikes Peak Art Commission. Both entities approved the project, and fund raising and planning continue.
Wood will travel to Mexico in April to spend a week on-site with Acuna and a few other artists fabricating, firing and glazing ceramic tiles for the installation. The mural is scheduled for an outside wall in a vacant train station; it would be the first step in the station's renovation into a proposed cultural center.
In August, the same process will happen on a yet-to-be-determined wall in Colorado Springs. The Pikes Peak Center courtyard is at the top of the wish list for the mural's placement.
Behind the $11,000 public art exchange is Jaye Wells, owner of Wild Hare, a line of fishing and hunting products in Colorado Springs, and NORAMdivide, a manufacturing company in Nuevo Casas Grandes.
Wood and Acuna independently told Wells of their interest in putting together an art project in the other city, and when Wells found out the two cities were sisters, Intercambio De Arte Publico (Public Art Exchange) was born.
The artists' mutual sense of organic architecture has turned out to be a good match.
"I'm a muralist inspired by architecture," Wood said, "and he's an architect who's really a mural artist at heart."
Wells is putting up the first $1,000 for each project; the rest will come from donations. He's making things happen, he said, because it's important for different cultures to improve relations and learn from each other, especially in the age of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We should really have the same feeling of mutual opportunity that we have with Canada," he said.
Nuevo Casas Grandes joined the Colorado Springs sister city ranks in 1996.
The other five sister cities are: Fujiyoshida, Japan (since 1962); Kaohsiung, Taiwan (since 1983); Smolensk, Russia (since 1993); Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (since 1994); and Bankstown, Australia, (added in 1999). The Torii gate on Nevada Avenue east of Acacia Park represents Fujiyoshida, and a sculpture in George Fellows Park represents Kaohsiung.
A year after its linkage with the small city in Mexico, Colorado Springs won Sister Cities International's award for the best first- year program in the United States.
City stained-glass project provides window of opportunity for students
Denver Post; Dec 30, 1999; Terri Cotten
Four stained-glass panels created by a group of high school students will appear next week in city hall, a testament to the faith the students have earned from the community with the help of a Manitou Springs artist.
The panels, titled 'People of the Springs,' are the 20th public art project by young people installed since 1991 in the Colorado Springs area with the help of artist Steve Wood.
'I work with all kinds of kids,' said Wood, who graduated from Colorado College in 1984 with a degree in geological illustration.
While he works with students from kindergarten through college age, attention seems to focus on the work he does with 'at-risk' kids.
'It's a great population, but I think that even those we see as well-adjusted are at-risk, too. My general philosophy is that I want to work with a wide range of kids.'
Wood remembers struggling to find the right group of friends when he was in middle and high school, like most students still do today. The difference is that today's search can be deadly.
Woods was creating a project with students at Workout Ltd., a nonprofit organization that teaches academic, work and social skills to at-risk youths, when a Sierra High School student was shot and killed.
One of the student's friends, who was taking Wood's class at the time, was able to dedicate a portion of a mural, later installed along a bike path near Garden of the Gods Road, to the youth who died.
'It was neat that we could work with him that way,' Wood said. 'On the other hand, I was in shock that he had to deal with stuff like that.'
In the back of an alcohol- and drug-treatment clinic, in space leased by Workout Ltd., another group of students recently worked on the city hall panels.
'I think it's cool that you can drive by (a work of art) and say, 'I did that,'' said Ben Mauran, 15, as he cut and adjusted glass for one of the panels.
'Plus, I like the designs and the way it goes together,' Mauran said.
Working at the same table, 16-year-old David Gates said he enjoys drawing and painting and might, eventually, be interested in a career in horticulture. He enjoys working with stained glass because it's different from other art forms, he added.
Together, a core group of three or four students - sometimes as many as nine or 10 - drew pictures of their own, then incorporated those into the panels. The panels display a montage of people, places and activities that make up Colorado Springs - from urban to natural settings, from new to historic.
Although things have gone fairly smoothly on the city hall project, not every mural has met with such acceptance, Wood admits. The first mural he did with Workout students had to clear several hurdles.
'You wouldn't believe the amount of fear we encountered - fear of allowing high school students the chance to express themselves,' he said. 'Luckily, there were some champions. They all got up at the right time and said the right things.'
Wood is proposing another stained glass panel at El Paso County's Centennial Hall. His work on the current project, along with that of stained glass artist Deb Steddom, was covered in part by a $2,000 grant from the Colorado Council on the Arts.
But the work doesn't pay what it should, and Wood dreams of the day he can incorporate one of his own murals into a building from the design stage, rather than being brought in to fix an ugly wall or a graffiti problem.
In the meantime, working with young people has been rewarding on a number of levels.
'One of the things the kids have done is give me an incredible experience working with all kinds of materials, public installations and setups,' he said.
'I really don't have to know everything (about the process). I just have to know how to talk to people who know everything. The process is very fun.'
Teens join artist in creating beauty/
Colorado Springs Gazette; May 7, 1996; Tanya Bell
A stroll in Frank Waters Park will soon take visitors from a sunny day to a moonlit night - or vice versa.
The small park on Corona Street between Bijou Street and Platte Avenue is being graced with art, courtesy of artist Steve Wood and seven teens. And it's not graffiti.
The 80-foot mural is being handcrafted with ceramic tiles and will depict nature and mythology - timeless themes that Wood said will endure for decades.
"We don't want people to look at this mural and be able to tell that is was done in 1996. And in this case, it won't deteriorate," said Wood.
He and the teens from Workout Ltd., an organization that provides rehabilitation projects for juvenile offenders, began working on the project four months ago. They met weekly to plan it, then began crafting the tiles.
Now, it's all coming together with a bit of cement in the park.
"I wanted to expose these kids to something they wouldn't normally get a chance to do," Wood said.
The city-approved project was paid for by donations of cash and supplies.
Wood hopes the mural will help reduce the amount of graffiti in the area. Murals at the Garden of the Gods Greenway underpass and Kiowa Street at Shooks Run have successfully reduced the problem in those areas.
"I think once we put something up that's beautiful and aesthetic, there becomes a mutual respect not to destroy," Wood said.
The teens are earning community services hours by participating in the project.
"It's really helped me stay out of trouble, and it's good practice since I am into drawing," said 14-year-old Moses Salazar, who got into the program as a part of his probation. He said he has enjoyed working with a group.
"It's exciting to see how it's coming together, and know that we did it," he said.
He and the other 15- to 18-year-olds began with raw, wet clay that was molded into ceramic tiles under Wood's guidance. The thousands of tiles are being cemented to the wall.
Wood has worked with each teen individually, offering special attention and teaching every aspect of the technique. He said it also makes each teen appreciate their work.
"It's something that will be around for awhile and I can show it off to my friends," said 17-year-old Jerrett. He said he chose this project because it was better than the other community service options he had, such as cleaning up spray paint.
Steve Wood - Public Art Associates - 719-685-4422 - firstname.lastname@example.org