Out of the Box

When you're out holiday shopping this season and they ask, "Would you like that in a box?" say yes.

Boxes this time of year can be packed with more than your average magic. Lined up in shop windows in Larimer Square and along the 16th Street Mall will be 47 of them, full of whimsy, schmaltz, color, glitz, Victorian nostalgia and just great camp.

The tiny 3-D extravaganzas were designed by Colorado artists, wired by lighting technicians and brought to life by a resident "movement guru." Puppets prance. Carousels spin. Bonbons cascade in a river of sweets. And, of course, sugarplums dance in the wee ones' heads.

The public art exhibit is the brainchild of Denver artist Lonnie Hanzon, whose Hanzon Studios was selected by the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and Larimer Square to come up with something that said "holidays." Hanzon didn't want to deck the mall with the usual garlands and reindeer. "I wasn't interested in doing decorations. I wanted to do an event," he says. "This will be Denver's Mardi Gras."

Hanzon put together a "wish list" of 22 artists he hoped would design the boxes--"and there were no turn-downs," he says. "I think a lot of people have memories of being taken to a downtown holiday window display as a kid, and I think a lot of artists are enchanted by those kinds of experiences." The designers had to work within certain parameters, however: no religious iconography, no "statements," and nothing so big it wouldn't fit inside a child's dollhouse.

The boxes planned for Larimer Square, the Park Central Building and LoDo--all built by the 36-member Hanzon Studios team--feature elaborate but charming Victorian motifs. But the "signature windows" on 16th Street are an artistic free-for-all. In Tim Flynn's "Hardware Circus," for example, brightly colored plastic toy tools look on as two toy bolts (say that three times fast) swing on a wire trapeze. Flashbulbs pop in the background; other Calderesque wire sculptures cheer from the stands.

Casey Gunshel's "Toy Hospital" is a delightfully surreal visit to a "Repairs R Us," complete with a zany, vulture-like toy doctor and wallpaper made from overlaid Band-Aid strips. A toy giraffe gets an X-ray, exposing a candy cane in his tum-tum; a haywire jack-in-the-box looks like he's doing a Nightmare Before Christmas audition. "They told me not to make it too scary," says Gunshel, who admits that most of her artwork has an edge to it.

Many of the boxes will be displayed in retail stores--though Bill Amundson's creation, not surprisingly, will animate a vacant storefront. His "X-MAX Santaplex Retail Wonderland" is a hilarious cartoon ode to holiday shopping, featuring the Hard Claus Cafe, Hanukkah Hut, Kwanzaa Korner and "Silent Night, Priced Just Right." Quips Amundson: "I'm not very good with the ye oldey stuff. Christmas isn't a real warm, fuzzy thing for me. I just like the shopping."

From November 20 through January 6, downtown will also be festooned with plenty of tannenbaums, colored lights and artful banners--yet another reason to skip the lines at the Hard Rock Cafe and hang outside with a box lunch instead. After Thanksgiving, Larimer Square visitors can skate on an outdoor rink, join Santa's Workshop for Kids and revel in the 23rd Annual Tuba Concert, Denver's traditional oompah-fest with 200 tubas piping, at noon on December 20. Be there and be square.

--Gayle Worland

Holiday window display unveiling Friday, November 20, starts at 16th and Broadway at 5:30 p.m. and proceeds down the mall, arriving at Larimer Square at 6:30 p.m. For Larimer Square's Winterfest schedule, call 303-607-1276 or log on to www.larimersquare.com.

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