Oppenheimer to be honored with sculpture

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By Jennifer Garcia

Thanks to a motion passed by county council at Tuesday night’s meeting, J. Robert Oppenheimer might soon find a place among the trees between the Los Alamos Historic Museum and Fuller Lodge.

Community Services Director and Arts in Public Places Board Liaison Stephani Johnson was in council chambers to present a motion asking council to approve the recommendation of the Arts in Public Places Board regarding the purchase and placement of an historic sculpture. After a vote, the motion passed 7-0.

According to county documents, the project has been in the works since the first of the year, when Helen Baran and Nancy Bartlit requested that the Art in Public Places Board consider the purchase of historic sculptures.

This request was made on behalf of the Historical Society and the Fuller Lodge Historic Districts Advisory Board. Since the board thought this project had merit, the project was added to the Board’s Five Year Plan.

It was decided by all involved that the sculptures would be life-size and that the first two would be of J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. After a decision was made to fund the project, Baran and Bartlit did extensive research to locate possible artists to perform the work.

Staff then issued a letter of inquiry to the artists who had expressed an interest in the project, as well as artists who had asked to be on the mailing list for such work.

Staff received three responses to the letter. After consideration of all three, the Board chose Susanne Vertel of Santa Fe to do the work.

Although the Board asked Vertel to provide a proposal for sculptures of both Oppenheimer and Groves, they decided that due to funding, Phase I would include the sculpture of Oppenheimer and Phase II would include the Groves sculpture.

After meeting with the artist, it was decided that the sculpture would be placed between the Historic Museum and Fuller Lodge among the trees.

There is sufficient room to place both sculptures and the base will be prepared so that the Groves sculpture can be installed there at a later date.

Vertel is experienced in figurative bronze work and has won awards from prestigious New York shows and numerous commissions.

She was recently awarded a commission for a life-size sculpture for the National Park Service, which is currently installed in Yellowstone National Park.

In addition, former President Clinton invited her to the White House and awarded a smaller version of her sculpture as a lifetime achievement award to a retiring federal employee.

The purchase price of the sculpture is $55,000 and the estimated installation will be no more than $10,000. There are sufficient monies in the capital funds, which have been set aside for public art to cover this expense.

Councilor Nona Bowman felt that the price for the sculpture was reasonable.

“A lot of work as been done by these people,” Bowman said. “It’s a pretty good price for a human size sculpture.”

Councilor Jim West praised the Arts in Public Places Board for recent choices they made.

“I’d like to compliment the Arts in Public Places Board for the taste they have recently exhibited,” he said. “This is a great thing and I agree with the placement. It’s something the public and tourists will enjoy seeing.”

Councilor Frances Berting said that she approves of what the Board is doing but wished she had more information on the artist and photos of what she’s been doing.

“I would like to see more before we give carte blanche,” she said. “We don’t know what photo she’s actually working on.”

Council Chair Jim Hall told Berting that the contract had to come back to council for approval and at that time, photos would be included. Hall also said that he supports the Oppenheimer and Groves sculptures but would like to see a bigger plan, given how little money the Arts in Public Places program has.