Visual Arts

Sloan's Lake tree stump sculptor Corrina Espinosa on the healing power of art

To look at the faces carved into the old tree trunk at Sloan's Lake Park playground, you wouldn't think any pain was associated with the project -- the faces smile widely, laughing as children use them to climb to the top of the stump. Yet, sculptor Corrina Espinosa created the piece to commemorate losing her cousin, who committed suicide years after sitting on that very stump with her as a child during Denver's "summer of violence." Espinosa remembers the stress of growing up in Denver in the mid-'90s, the pain of losing a family member and the comfort of that neighborhood park. The project, she says, was a way to heal.

Now, as she readies for her new show, Hybrid Zoetic on December 9 at the Center for Visual Art (her senior thesis), she reminisces on how art has helped change Denver, reactions to her carving, the death of her cousin and why she became a sculptor.

What's the story behind your Sloan's Lake project? It was a few years ago now -- it was November 2008. I grew up in Denver and went to Lake Middle School. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I played softball right there on the corner of the playground. It was a tree stump I had seen all my life and when I took my son there I thought, "Man, I really wish I could do something with that piece of wood." So I had a project in art that was supposed to be ephemeral -- something that wasn't meant to last, that was meant to fade. So I got permission from the city and I got the whole thing done in about a week. I was really happy with it.

What's the importance of making ephemeral art?

I knew it was going to last a long time, but it has been a few years, and the sculpture is starting to fade now. I think the concept is interesting because that is sort of the way life is -- life's ephemeral. Life's supposed to be short-lived. It sort of increases the power because you can only enjoy it for a short time before it's gone.

Why is the project important to you?

I will let you in on a special secret about that lake sculpture that not a lot of people know. When I was growing up there, by Sloan's Lake, I had a cousin who was living with a great-aunt of ours and she and I used to sit on that stump and eat sunflower seeds together, when I was twelve or thirteen. Later, she hung herself. So for me, to come back to that stump was a tribute to her. That has always been a source about why I am a sculptor, because I was a part of Denver's hard time during the '90s -- a violent time. I just wanted to break out of that cycle, when it was 1993, Denver's summer of violence. That time was something that impacted me, so I wanted to turn it around and I wanted to make the experience good for me. I wanted to make it beautiful.

Why is art, like your art, important to a community?

When I was a teenager in the '90s, there was a lot of violence in Denver. I went to inner-city schools, where it could have been easy to get lost in the crowd. But, it seemed that art, whether it was music, poetry or visual art, was the one thing that could reach all of us kids. It made us feel like individuals when we tapped into our true passions and that made us care about life.

Art is the language that connects all of humanity, and I am reminded of this when I see how Denver's art scene has grown and how excited the city gets come First Friday, when it's showtime. I think there is a special energy that has developed in the Denver art scene over that last few years, there is a sort of buzz and excitement and I am honored to to be a part of it. I love this city. I love our kids. And I am dedicated to contributing work that will make it a better place.

Has Denver changed?

I think Denver has really grown and changed for the better in the last ten or so years. It seems to me that there is more of a sense of community, and people care about what happens here.

How do people react to the piece?

Even now, when I take my kid to the playground and see other kids playing on the stump, I like to watch the way other people have a reaction to it. People act different when they know you're the artist -- they'll tell you what they think you want to hear. So I like to see people react to it and even sometimes criticize it. It was one of my earlier works, so it's not my best piece, but it's still fun to see people enjoying it. Especially because it's in a place where I grew up feel like I'm a part of that community. It's my park.

How does the Sloan's Lake piece relate to your art now?

The Sloan's Lake piece is a part of my childhood -- it's where my roots are. I started making art with clay and wood. Carving is my forte, but more recently my work has involved more technology like lights, sound and clean-cut plastic. A goal in my most recent work is to fuse those traditional materials (carved wood and clay) with the new (lights, sound and plastic). Like my piece, "Hybrid Beast- 2010," which is carved wood on metal pipe legs.

Why does art heal, do you think?

Art helps heal because it is expressive, it's a positive outlet for the human soul, and it is progressive with infinite potential for growth. Visual communication through art gives us understanding, a voice, and it propels us forward. Personally it just makes me happy.

The reception for Espinoza's senior thesis exhibition, Hybrid Zoetic, will take place Dec. 9, 6 to 9 p.m., at the Center for Visual Art (965 Santa Fe Drive). Her art will show at the gallery through Dec. 15.

For more information, or to contact Espinosa, please visit

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Tiffany Fitzgerald