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Council backs sculpture series plan

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By Mandy Marksteiner

The County Council accepted, with a 5-1 vote, the Historic Scuptures Master Plan Committee’s (HSMPC) 10-year plan for commissioning life-sized historic sculptures to represent five eras of Los Alamos history. 

“The Master Plan lays out a vision for celebrating our rich history,” said Ron Wilkins, the chair of the Fuller Lodge Historic Districts Advisory Board.

“What we considered was our unique history, from Pueblo times to the Cold War. No one else can tell this story and it’s a story we should tell,” said Linda Deck, the director of the Bradbury Science Museum. 

Meeting in White Rock Tuessday, the council also approved the south wing of Fuller Lodge as the location for Susanne Vertel’s sculptures of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the first laboratory director under the Manhattan Project, and General Leslie R. Groves, of the U.S. Army Corps who oversaw the Manhattan Project.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle was opposed to the proposal, which calls for 13 more statues.  “My concern is that if the commissions are between $60,000 and $80,000, this plan could cost in excess of half a million dollars. If we approve this plan we may not be able to meet all the other artwork needs of the community,” he said. 

Chiravalle was referring to monies from the Capital Improvement Fund that the Art in Public Places Board uses to purchase art.

When Community Services Director Stephani Johnson presented the HSMPC report to the council, she said the HSMPC will try to supplement the funds for the commissions with private donations. 

“Families might come forward to donate money for the statues,” Nancy Bartlit, HSMPC Chair, said.

Johnson added, “We will get 1 percent of what you spend on the municipal building. You do the math, we’ll have lots of money.”

According to Johnson, the plan, which recommends commissioning 13 statues in the next ten years, is aggressive, and it’s unlikely that they will get to all of the statues within the 10-year period. The HSMPC will not proceed with a commission until the money is available, she said.  

Council Chairman Michael E. Wismer said, “I don’t see this as a commitment to spend half a million dollars.  As the funds become available, this is how we’ll proceed.”

Council Chair Michael Wheeler suggested that the HSMPC avoid using anonymous, generic figures as subjects. “We should consider asking members of the San Ildefonso community if they have a historic figure we should use as a model,” he said.

“This plan jumps out and grabs me as my district, as our district,” Wismer said.  “People tend to think of Los Alamos in terms of the Manhattan Project, but there’s a lot more to it.  There’s something here for us. We’re charting our history through statues.”