Visual Arts

WORKSHOP8's temporary public art installation will make you love summer even more

You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Summer is... sunshine, sweet tea and watermelon salad. Water, of course. Hiking, biking, rafting. Late nights around the campfire sharing beer, s'mores and conversation. Falling in love with a friend. Falling in love with Colorado all over again. Boulder-based collaborators WORKSHOP8 and Blue Spruce Design & Construction felt so inspired by the fleeting season of pool days, backyard grilling and sweet-smelling sunblock that they turned their favorite summertime memories into a unique and interactive temporary public-art installation, Summer is..., now up at the Denver Art Museum's Martin Plaza through September 8. Constructed with sustainable materials and a dash of ingenuity, the contemporary urban "campfires" give art lovers a chance to pull up a tree stump and share a story with friends -- without ever leaving the city or striking a match.

See also: DADA Art Bar gives art lovers and artists a place to hang out -- and hang

When the DAM put out a call for submissions for a temporary art installation in Martin Plaza, the folks at WORKSHOP8, a multi-faceted and energetic architecture, planning and design studio, wanted in. "We had done public-art competitions before, but other submissions have not been built," says Brandy LeMae, principal on the Summer is... project and an accomplished fine artist who has been represented by several Colorado galleries. You don't have to set foot in a gallery to see one of LeMae's masterpieces, though: Her newest installation, created with project designer Emily Axtman and contributors Gaby Crespo, Graham Bowman, Alex Chavez, Nathan Stark, jv DeSousa, Joseph Vigil and Adam Meis, is free for all to enjoy. After receiving over fifty entries, the DAM selected WORKSHOP8's concept, and the team promptly began brainstorming. Everybody in the office worked on the project in some capacity, says LeMae, and after 400-plus hours of thinking, some of them around midnight, Emily Axtman came up with the idea for a campfire-like structure. It's a concept near and dear to Axtman, who has worked on community-based projects from North Carolina and Texas to Africa, advocating for design that shelters, empowers and strengthens communities.

Once the team settled on a concept, its members began looking to other artists and projects for inspiration: wish trees, Buddhist shrines, pallet structures, tape art, structures made of reclaimed materials, planted art, string art and art made with soda bottles, to name a few. The result of all that research is a modern interpretation of summertime. Summer is... campfire!

Continue reading for more on Summer Is...

Summer is development, too. On May 30, a team of seventeen people from WORKSHOP8, Blue Spruce Design & Construction and LP Custom Framing constructed the installation in a single (and long) day. "We wanted something to start at the beginning of the plaza and go to the end," explains Axtman of the expansive piece. In the weeks preceding the formal installation day, Lonnie Gates, owner of LP's Custom Framing, and his crew spent over 300 hours building the seating and octagonal platforms accompanying the sculptural fire. Summer is also stewardship, apparently. The exhibit, four twelve-foot platforms with eight stump seats, was made with Mother Nature in mind, using Colorado beetle-kill pine donated by Wood Source in Denver, retired climbing rope that had lost its elasticity from Movement Boulder Climbing + Fitness, found branches, 
milk paint, river rock, 
hang tags printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks, and miscellaneous hardware. "We knew we wanted to keep as much as possible out of the landfill," says LeMae. Summer is also engaging. Visitors are encouraged to jot down their cherished summer memories and favorite warm-weather pastimes on green hang tags, then tie them to a "ray" of climbing rope. WORKSHOP8 hopes that by the end of summer, the installation will be a beautiful and fun representation of what summer means to our local community -- and maybe a few tourists, too. The team also hopes that the platforms and "fires" making up its eco-conscious installation won't end up in a landfill. Instead, the pieces are available for sale through WORKSHOP8, with any funds raised helping to offset the in-kind labor costs for the project. Information about how to purchase an urban campsite can be found online, or by calling 303-442-3700.

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase