By Beecher Threatt
For two hours on Saturday, amateur sculptors focussed their attention on turning a five pound block of clay into a winning masterpiece in the first ever Ridgway Sculpture Contest. When director Michael McCullough gave the start signal, the room hushed, classical music played and spectators walked quietly among the 21 contestants in the Ridgway Community Room.
Co-sponsor Weehawken Creative Arts, represented by Susie Opdahl and Lissette Riviere, offered concessions and gratefully accepted donations. WCA managed pre-contest registration and marketing and assisted with planning.
John Billings, aka "The Grammy Man" and mold maker extraordinaire, told the crowd, "This is the most exciting thing we've ever had happen here."
The five judges deliberated for 30 minutes, then called the contestants back in to announce the awards. Besides Billings and McCullough, the judges were Pokey Park, an outstanding bronze sculptor who lives in Ridgway and Tucson; Shannon Marjenhoff of Ridgway, who specializes in fine art and special effects; and, Henrik Haaland, wood block print maker who recently moved here from the East Coast.
First place cash prize of $1,000 went to Tessa Arnett of Grand Junction, whose squid sculpture evoked descriptions of clean, polished, artful, dramatic, no distractions. Arnett recently graduated Colorado Mesa University with a bachelor's degree in biology and is headed to graduate school after a year of working as a biological observer on commercial fishing boats in Alaska.
Second place winner of $500 was first-time sculptor Deb Scott of Grand Junction, whose depiction of a horse in scrambling in rocks and brush had movement and detail.
Third place, $250, went to Ouray summer resident Linda Cannizzaro. Her sculpture had a young girl, obviously in a poor urban neighborhood, looking at her shadow on a brick wall. The shadow was a graceful ballerina. Cannizzaro also won Billings' pick for Best in Show, and he presented her with a silver Grammy bell candlestick.
"I saw the thought behind it," Billings said of the piece. "It almost told a story; it wasn't just an animal."
The two youngest competitors, 14-year-olds Kianna Ziemann, a Ridgway Middle School student, and Dylin Jarboe, from Farmington, N.M., won fourth and fifth respectively, going home with $50 each. Dylin's father, Craig, drove him up from Farmington just for the contest. Dylin is hoping for a career in special effects.
McCullough, aka Larry Walters, is a monumental bronze sculptor and lives in the Old Firehouse in Ridgway with partner Lucy Boody. He thanked Boody and Opdahl for their hard work in making the contest a reality.
"I had a crazy idea about a year ago, and here it is," McCullough told the contestants and spectators. McCullough's incredible fundraising talents allowed the contest to offer large cash prizes. He also made practice clay available at regional Alpine Bank locations.
Local donors for the event included Billings, Michael Plank, Weaver Family Foundation, Double RL Ranch, Mountain Market, Alpine Bank, True Grit Cafe, Kuno Vollenweider, Carol Ann and David Rasmussen and Eric Dickerson.
Billings fashions and sells candlesticks from leftover Grammy bells in his Ridgway studio. As planned, the top three finishers received candlesticks signed by him. But in a surprise move, in the middle of the contest Billings brought in candlesticks for each contestant.
"I want this (candlestick) to represent the light of inspiration. I am moved to tears by what I see here," Billings solemnly announced. "I think it's mind blowing what everyone did."
Contestants arrived Saturday morning from Ridgway, Ouray, Grand Junction, Montrose, Hotchkiss, Delta, Silverton and Farmington. Cannizzaro is a Ouray summer resident who lives the rest of the year in The Woodlands, Texas.
Weehawken's All Fired Up clay studio is beneficiary of leftover blocks of clay and will host an open sculpture studio this summer. Dates are July 17 and 31, and Aug. 14 and 28, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Call Weehawken at 318-0150 or go to weehawkenarts.org for more information.