Gift From the Gods," by Sandra Messina, is one
of the 36 public art displays in Boulder City, Nev.
CITY, Nev. ó Your savvy, but ultimately foolhardy,
tourist on his way to Hoover Dam will take a sharp left on
the Highway 93 bypass and avoid this cityís
"historic" downtown altogether.
what the traveler saves in time and gas mileage, always
important in these frugal times, he will lose in the
immeasurable realm of the sublime. He will miss a lovely
Art Deco-drenched, Depression-era town forged by the New
Deal, a town that takes aesthetics so seriously in its
urban core that it could be mistaken for an art museum.
fewer than 36 officially recognized pieces of public art,
most sculptures but also a few murals, line Boulder Cityís
two main thoroughfares, Nevada Way and Arizona Street.
Hewn over the years by human toil, just like Hoover Dam,
but on a less grand, more personal scale, these pieces
range from wrought iron and bronze historic
representations from the damís construction to whimsical
pieces celebrating daily life in this cozy burg of 15,023.
way, itís best to approach Boulder City unaware of its
artistic bent, as I did. You get a nice jolt of amusement
as you reach the intersection of Nevada Way and Wyoming
standing proudly with the late-afternoon sun glinting off
its surface, is a larger-than statue not of President
Franklin D. Roosevelt nor Hoover Dam architect Gordon B.
Kaufmann, but of a lowly worker named "Alabam."
He is wearing a fedora and overalls, has a bandolier of
toilet-paper rolls draped across his chest and has slung a
straw broom with a few more rolls of toilet paper on the
handle. Depending on your interpretation, his facial
expression is either a tight-lipped smile or a muted
grimace for the job to which heís been assigned.
the first work of art in town, a bronze and copper work by
local sculptor Steven Liguori, commemorates a man who
cleans the scores of outhouses at the dam construction
site, an essential if, er, crappy, job. A plaque honors
those who held such thankless jobs at the dam: "There
were muckers who shoveled mud out of the tunnels, truck
drivers who hauled rock up and down the river or, like the
man you see here, those who swept the outhouses and kept
them well supplied with paper."
"Alabam" does not set the tone for the 35 other
pieces that line the streets. You canít dismiss the
collection as mere kitsch. Some pieces, granted, are
equally as whimsical, but others take a more serious
approach to the townís Depression-era roots and still
others celebrate the quotidian charms of small-town life:
children at play, dogs straining to fetch a ball, a couple
in their Sunday best embracing, a biker astride his
chopper, two construction workers kicking back with their
often these days, cities erect public art only as an
afterthought, or as a contract demand to developers who
carve out housing tracts and strip malls. Itís
refreshingly rare to see a city fork over the original
investment. Then, when those funds dwindled, it reached
out to its artists and formed an agency, the Boulder City
Public Art Scape, to "create a more visually pleasing
environment" by inviting sculptors and muralists to
donate (sometimes permanently, sometimes just for a
season) works they feel define the town.
numerous are the works that some visitors are a little
taken aback. As they exited the popular Boulder Dam
Brewing Co. and headed across Nevada Way to where their
motorcycles were parked, Dave Couture turned to friend
itís sticking its head out of the pipe Ė cool!"
Couture said, as Ault smiled and reached for her phone to
take a picture of a bizarre piece featuring a human head
peeking out from a curved 6-foot above-ground water main
come out here every now and then to have a beer and get
out of Vegas, and you canít help but notice (the
art)," Couture said. "You ought to come when
they have their (monthly) Art in the Park. Itís a huge
festival. They get even more art on display. It makes you
want to stop here."
City has been a tourist stop since the towering temple of
hydroelectric power opened in the mid-1930s. The town has
its share of T-shirt and trinket shops, but also quirky
non-chain restaurants, antiques stores and boutiques (the
buzz phrase here is "Artistic Upcycling"). Itís
always had an artistic bent, but nothing really organized
until the formation of the nonprofit Art Scape in 2006.
when the sculptures, four to a block in some stretches,
began in earnest. The city provides a detailed map, but
really it is better just to park your car and hoof it up
and down the Old Town streets. (Boulder City was built in
a triangle-like grid, so even the farthest-flung works are
within walking distance of the historic Art Deco theater,
hotel and city hall.)
youíre done gaping at the cheekiness of the noble
latrine cleaner, look on the other corner and gaze upon
one of the newest pieces, Las Vegas artistís Sandra
Messinaís "A Gift From the Gods," purchased by
Art Scape and donated to the city. Itís an 8-foot bronze
rendering of an eagle feather, painted a stark black and
white and so ethereal you think it might float away on the
next breeze. Another block down, Messinaís tandem piece,
"The Relationship," features two bronze eagles.
Damís history is given its due beyond "Alabam."
W. Butlerís "Afternoon Breeze," showing a
woman with hand to hat, is a nod to the wives of
construction workers who helped civilize the town. A
plaque reads: "the women had to improvise, shaping
the temporary camp into an enduring community. They
planted vines and fashioned rugs out of scraps,
transforming slapdash houses into pleasant cottages."
Sutton Bettiís "Puddlerís Break" shows two
construction workers, "Puddlers," in repose.
These were the guys who poured the cement and smoothed it
with shovels, making sure "debris," such as
fellow workers, didnít get submerged.
City residents mostly nod and give a lukewarm, "itís
nice" appraisal of all the artwork. It takes an
outsider, perhaps, or maybe a native son returned home
after years away, to fully appreciate it.
STORY CAN END HERE)
Bergeron, 44, grew up in Boulder City, left after high
school, settled in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and never looked
back. When he returned for the first time last month for a
visit, he was shocked.
first thought is, ĎThatís odd,í and then ĎWow, itís
cool,í" he said. "I donít remember too many
sculptures here when I was a kid. Itís kind of surreal.
The place looks so much nicer. It makes me wonder whether
I should have ever left."
directed me to leave the immediate Old Town and go a
half-mile to a house on Navajo Drive ("Canít miss
it; itís shaped like a geodesic dome"). That block
is a typical suburban tract, except for the bright white,
well, igloo on the corner. In front are four bronze
statues, including a large piece showing three children
huddled around an open book, that the home owner. Milton
Layne, purchased from the same artists whose work adorns
I buy them?" said Layne, 87. "I just liked them.
Iíd like to see everybody here have a statue in their
this rate, Boulder City just might get there.