DENVER — CU Denver student Walter Ware III went to the woodshed, so to speak, to help craft a stunning work of art. His hands cramped from peeling the piece’s main material — a small forest of lumber. His back screamed from lifting Bunyan-esque logs. Hot baths became a nightly ritual to soothe his shoulders and hips.
Working for renowned local artist Patrick Marold, Ware was on the small crew that trod up and down steep slopes to install support posts and other rigging for all that timber — 236 logs, to be exact. So the array of aches reached his feet, where his toes jammed into the fore of steel-tipped boots.
The result of his sweat equity? It’s an art installation in the man-made valley south of Denver International Airport’s new hotel and Public Transit Center. The piece—the largest commission for a local artist in the 38-year history of the Colorado public art program—is a monument to nature and geometric nuance, to sunlight and shadow, to brazen vision and breathtaking scale.
Supplying much of the hands-on expertise and brawn was Ware, a blacksmith by trade and a senior at CU Denver who will soon earn dual bachelor’s degrees. He’s majoring in sculpture in the College of Arts & Media (CAM) and anthropology-archaeology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). Ware started last spring as an intern for Marold, then became a project employee.
As he looks over the installation, titled “Shadow Array” and spanning the space of two football fields, Ware recalls a personal relationship with practically every log. “I could definitely tell you which ones were mine,” he says with a chuckle. “My son, who was 19 at the time, came out and peeled a log one day. He said, ‘Oh my God, Pop, that’s a hundred times harder than you said it was.’ Your shoulders and arms feel it. Usually, your hands don’t want to work again for a few hours.”
Now that “Shadow Array” is completed, Ware marvels at how his prized internship, which sprang from key contacts at CAM, led to a job on one of the largest public art installations on the planet. “Being an artist myself, it’s great to be recognized for having skills to help another artist create something that he wants,” he says. “That was kind of my home run, and to be able to work on it for such a long time was just amazing. I like art and I like to be able to make it, and it has just been phenomenal to make something like this — this large that everybody is going to be able to enjoy.”
Ware’s metal-working background proved to be indispensable because the project on the doorstep of the nation’s fifth-busiest airport involved a lot of steel and many hand-crafted tools and parts. Special knives were created to peel the logs. Welding jigs were fashioned to allow the union of nuts and bolts — sometimes 200 times over.
“Now that it’s all together it looks so much more simple,” Ware says. “But that’s not what I remember; there was so much to it. Making the metal posts, for example. Each one was a different size.”
The real stars of the show, though, are the logs that were positioned into place by a crane. Reaching 75 feet, they are from some of Colorado’s tallest trees. The defining signature of this stand of timber is its unfortunate end; the trees are old-growth Engelmann spruce from the Rio Grande Forest in southern Colorado. Ware recalls peeling the bark and seeing swarms of beetles scurrying inside chewed-away portions of log.
“These are beetle-kill logs and by using them in the sculpture you’re giving something new life,” Ware says with a smile. In this second life, the timber works in concert with the sun. “Patrick likes to work with light and shadow. The logs alter the aspects of light and shadow and creates this really interesting effect.”
Marold says the overall idea was to enliven and beautify the valley, which will welcome thousands of passengers each day via the University of Colorado A Line, which, beginning in spring 2016, will travel between DIA and Union Station.
Marold says his piece is all about solar exposure and the way precisely-spaced logs interact with their own shadows. “The patterns change throughout the day — they’re always different,” he says. “And at night there’s a lighting component that will enhance and activate the valley as well. It will be a subtle dimming and movement of the lights.”
Marold assembled a small but talented team of artists, fabricators and even musicians to work on the installation. He connected with Ware through CAM’s Dean’s Advisory Council, a group of CAM alumni and community leaders who are enmeshed in the local art scene. Ware was paired with an internship advisor at CU Denver’s Experiential Learning Center who helped him through the paperwork of this once-in-a-lifetime internship.
Marold put Ware to work peeling, welding and fabricating. “Walter came in with a lot of experience in metal-working,” the artist says. “He learned all the steps along the way that we learned. He’s been great … and I think it’s really helped set him up. He’ll graduate this semester and who knows what he’ll do from here, but to to have this kind of experience in school — to see a project this big all the way through — I think it’s been a really rich experience for him.”
‘I can make that happen’
Ware spent long but rewarding days at the hangar-turned-studio in Watkins, where his labors added to “Mount Chipawalla,” the ever-growing pile of wood shavings. After each exhausting shift, he brushed off the sawdust and drove home, where he beelined for a soak in a heap of warm suds.
He showed pictures of the progress to his family — his wife of 22 years and five children who range in age from 12 to 26. The oldest has graduated from CU-Boulder, and two other children, a daughter and son, are currently studying there. Ware’s oldest son, Walter Ware IV, is considering CU Denver to study mechanical engineering.
Ware figures that one day next spring he’ll join his family on a light-rail trip — they live near a station — to show off what Pop was doing all those days in the hangar.
“It’s bittersweet,” he says of the project. “When I wasn’t in class I was here working on this. And now it’s over. It’s kind of like raising your kids up to a certain age and then letting them go.”
Ware enhanced his perseverance skills during six years in the Army National Guard (19th Special Forces Group). At CU Denver, “The sculpture department has been amazing. It’s a really supportive program,” he says. “My fellow sculptors — it’s a small group of maybe 10 sculptors — make for a very nurturing society.”
After graduation, Ware would consider working for another artist, but his main goal is to establish his own studio. His dream is to create public art pieces of his own.
With two degrees and a home run of an internship, Ware is contemplating an array of options. The future is brighter now that he’s proven, through sharpness of mind and strength of body, that he can tackle just about anything.
“This project was so big, it’s just amazing,” Ware says. “I’ve learned that something this large can actually be done without having hundreds of people working on it. Now, when I look at (doing) a project, I can think big and realize that I can make that happen.”
Getting the most from faculty, scholarships
Walter Ware III credits CU Denver faculty in the sculpture department for helping him grow as an artist, including Associate Professor Rian Kerrane, Senior Instructor Michael Brohman and Phil Mann, sculpture studio manager.
Ware won a couple scholarships as a student. He earned a Boettcher Foundation Opportunity Award the last two years and he received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a CU Denver Global Study Scholarship, to fund a summer study program in Kerrane’s native Ireland. While participating in a Maymester program in Kansas, Ware became a guest blacksmith and helped build a Japanese-style iron-making furnace.