Living History: The famous among us

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By Katy Korkos

The spirits of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves seem present to people who know the history of Los Alamos, but their likenesses will soon stand exactly where they once stood more than 60 years ago. With the help of historical sculptures, visitors and residents will no longer have to imagine the past. Former County Councilor Nancy Bartlit has spearheaded a project to bring bronze representations of prominent figures to Los Alamos, and currently serves as chairperson of a committee assigned to create a master plan for locating them. She began working on the project in 2003.

“I was president of the Historical Society,” Bartlit said. “The prospect of Los Alamos becoming a part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park made me think about making the experience of visiting Los Alamos more appealing to visitors.”

Alert pedestrians may have spotted both “Oppie” and Groves standing near Fuller Lodge on Monday, as the Historical Sculptures Master Plan Committee auditioned possible locations for bronze sculptures. Life-sized cutouts, supplied by Los Alamos Historical Society director Hedy Dunn, were placed in several different spots where they lived and worked during the Manhattan Project, and each site was evaluated by committee members as to its historical context, visual context, the route along which the sculptures will be placed as well as considerations of safety, security and upkeep.

Santa Fe sculptor Susanne Vertel was contracted to create the first piece in the series of bronzes. The model from which the bronze will be cast is nearly complete, and has reached the “fine-tuning” stage, according to Hurshman, who visited the artist in her studio in July.

Eight potential sites will be whittled down to three by Monday, when the committee meets again in Fuller Lodge at 1 p.m. The committee is comprised of eight voting members and two non-voting members. Voting members include Bartlit and Dunn, along with Helen Baran, a past member of the Fuller Lodge Historic District Advisory Board (FLHDAB), Linda Deck, the director of the Bradbury Science Museum, Ellen McGehee, Los Alamos National Laboratory team leader for historic preservation, Katy Korkos, member services coordinator for the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, Brian Hurshman, Sparkplug Studio owner and Tara Voit, former member of the Arts in Public Places board. Non-voting members are Ron Wilkins who serves on the Fuller Lodge Historic District Advisory Board and John Hofman, who chairs the Arts in Public Places Board.

The committee meets weekly and has set itself a deadline of  Sept. 1 to find the proper location for the Oppenheimer statue, which will be completed in December. All meetings are open to the public.