"Helping Hands," as seen in 1991. Courtesy photo

As noted in a Sept. 14 Sopris Sun article, “Carbondale Report: Full Panel, full agenda, full audience”, Carbondale’s “Public Arts Commission (CPAC) voted to remove Stephen Lock’s deteriorating ‘Helping Hands’ sculpture located next to the Near New at Third and Main since 1991.”

The news trickled out to the community, and some have expressed their discontentment over the decision. Tucker Farris, for instance, commented on Facebook, “Sad to see it come down. This has been a hallmark staple of town for my entire life.” 

A Jan. 23, 2020 article in The Sopris Sun, “Sculptures past to present”, details the origins of Helping Hands, but here is a quick recap.

Helping Hands was created by Stephen Lock a few years after he moved to the Valley from England. The artist was commissioned by Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, known today as Carbondale Arts, to create the piece.

It symbolizes Lock’s impression of Carbondale: a place where people regularly lend a helping hand to one another.

On Sept. 9, CPAC met for a public meeting at Town Hall and unanimously agreed to “deaccession” the sculpture. The board packet referred to the piece as the “climbing” sculpture. Some board members who were present seemingly joked about seeing what it’s worth in scrap metal or simply giving it to the town of Basalt.

Luis Yllanes, the board of trustees’ liaison to CPAC, noted that it’s not uncommon to deaccession public art.

“Last year, I would say, with sussing out how the artist would like to have that restored — if they wanted to — they did not care,” then-chairperson Britini Johnson conveyed to the rest of the board. “So, it fell to the town and CPAC to decide and it was very expensive to restore it … it’s also moderately dated.” According to the board packet, the cost was estimated to be no less than $2,500.

Lock reported, however, “It came as a huge surprise and disappointment that the town had decided to ‘deaccession’ the sculpture with no plans to relocate [it].” He added that to his knowledge, the piece was the first commissioned art installation for the town of Carbondale, “and I believe it started the desire for more art around town.”

Noting CPAC’s intention to incorporate the location within its annual rotation of Art Around Town, by laying a foundation for new installations, Lock questioned, “Why not leave Helping Hands in its historical location and put the new marble base somewhere else?”

Yllanes acknowledged the sense of permanence the sculpture holds in town. He also pointed out that the sculpture predates Art Around Town, which provides more artists with the opportunity to have their works displayed prominently. 

Lock concluded, “It has been in place for 31 years, but if it has to move, then I believe it is important that it remains in a downtown location.”

The morning of Friday, Oct. 21, The Sopris Sun was notified by a reader that the sculpture was to come down that day. The same day, Laurie Lindberg, director of public works and staff liaison to CPAC, reported that the sculpture would not come down then, but added, “maybe next week.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, Lindberg informed The Sopris Sun that the deinstallation had been postponed, “because Public Works is busy and removing the sculpture isn’t a high priority.” It’s unclear when Helping Hands will come down. Lindberg stated that Lock is to take possession of the sculpture once it is removed.

She reported that the board has been discussing the sculpture for a long time and that CPAC has been in touch with Lock over the years. 

The 2020 article in The Sopris Sun reads, “CPAC and Lock have been in touch regarding a ‘facelift,’ as Lock puts it, of the sculpture. The refurbishment would likely require a powder coating. Lindberg recalls one bid for powder coating the sculpture being $1,200.”

The article continued, “There is also some talk about relocating the statue. Lock says he loves where it is now but is open to the possibility of it being moved. He added, ‘as long as it remains in Carbondale and is accessible that’ll be fine.’”

Lindberg is not aware of any public sculpture in Carbondale which predates Helping Hands.