Head toward the covered bridge in Vail Village and you inevitably pass a white-clad soldier, frozen mid-step with skis over one shoulder and goggles covering his eyes. The 13-feet-tall bronze statue with his Army-issued gear honors those 10th Mountain Division ski soldiers, both alive and dead, who trained at Camp Hale, south of Vail, during World War II. Created by Scott Stearman and Victor Issa, 10th Mountain Division Memorial is just one of almost 50 carefully curated pieces of Vail’s public art from East Vail to West Vail’s Vail Ridge. The Town of Vail’s Art In Public Places (AIPP) program was officially adopted in 1992 to “promote and encourage the development and public awareness of fine arts.” Pieces range from murals to bronze figures to more modern work — even playgrounds. And while it’s easy to stumble upon some of Vail’s public art, the best way to explore is with an Art Walk, a free guided tour throughout Vail Village.
Starting at the Vail Village Welcome Center, Molly Eppard, the AIPP coordinator, points out a new addition to the collection. Red Eddy, (2015) by Paul Vexler, hangs above the welcome center desk. One of the few indoor pieces, this commissioned work is made of Douglas Fir and red laminate. Most of the public art in Vail is made of more durable material — stone, bronze, iron — to help it survive the elements. With its wooden structure and graceful lines, Red Eddy is a wonderful introduction to the collection.
“It just fit the space,” Eppard says. “I think it’s a lyrical interpretation of nature without being literal.”
Move down the stairs and, at the bus stop, you’ll find the earliest public art installation in Vail: History of the Gore Valley, a ceramic tile mural. Children from the Gore Valley, including local Olympians Sarah Schlepper and Toby Dawson, created the artwork on the tiles, painting local life over the past couple centuries, from the Ute Indians to the early settlers to the 10th Mountain Division. Many people walk past this mural daily and are unaware of the history of the piece — see if you can spot the Gore Creek shark the next time you’re waiting for the bus.
Walk toward the covered bridge (be sure to wave at the soldier) and, after crossing Gore Creek, head towards Gondola One. There is plenty of art along the way, including the dancing fountains and even the Pirate Ship Park, created by Ty Gillespie and the Town of Vail Design Team — it’s a wonderful example of experiential art.
But not all of the art in town was commissioned or donated by the town. At the base of Gondola One is The Edge, by Gail Folwell (2008). This bronze sculpture, depicting a skier seemingly defying gravity, is inspired by Bode Miller and was commissioned by Vail Resorts. Though not found on the Art In Public Places walking map, it’s easy to find when strolling through town.
Meander down Wall Street and take a close look at the stones of the water feature. See the mouse hidden there? Integrated among the stones are Animal Stones, (2004) pieces from Colorado- based Carolyn Braaksma. Now glance down at your feet — Braaksma also created the Riddles (2004) just waiting to be solved. These clever plays-on-words reference places and things that are part of Vail: a map of China + a bowl (China Bowl); a tent, – h, a mountain and a division sign (10th Mountain Division).
Vail’s Art In Public Places is a mix of commissioned works, like the Vexler piece in the welcome center, and donated pieces. One of the newest donated pieces in the collection is installed on a west-facing concrete wall of Vail Village’s main parking structure. Kent and Vicki Logan donated the conceptual masterwork by artist Lawrence Weiner, one of the foremost conceptual artists of the 1960s who introduced text as art. The phrase, “to the extent of how deep the valley is at some given time” (2018) is rendered in giant metal letters in Blue Pantone 229.
“It is an incredibly generous donation of art from Vicki and Kent Logan’s renowned contemporary collection,” Eppard says. “They felt it was fitting for this work by Lawrence Weiner to remain in Vail given the context and message of the work. We are extremely fortunate to have an artist of this caliber in our public art collection.” The collection of art in Vail continues to grow with new artists contributing pieces that provide color, energy and interest to the town. In late June 2019, international muralist and Colorado native Kelsey Montague will create a piece on the western ground entrance of Vail Village parking structure. Known for her elaborate wings and other interactive installations, Eppard says she’s excited to see “what lifts” Montague in Vail.
So take a stroll with an Art In Public Places tour or on your own with a map in hand. Discovering the spectrum of work on display in Vail, from the playful Children’s Fountain to the Variation in Silver and White at Lionshead Transportation Center, is one of the most colorful and inspiring ways to experience the valley.