Fire, water and ice in Vail |

Fire, water and ice in Vail

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
HL Solaris Sculptures 2 DT 10-2-10

VAIL, Colorado – An upside down Christmas tree.

Pieces of popcorn strung along branches.

A martini glass housing a a super bubbly concoction.

That’s just a sampling of the things passersby have called one of the newest sculptures in Vail, located on the west end of Solaris in Vail.

Initially artist Lawrence Argent referred to the sculpture as “The Geyser” in the preliminary proposal he submitted to the town of Vail back in August 2007. Now he’s calling it the “Water Tree.” It doesn’t bother him that people think of alcoholic beverages when they see the 24-foot-tall sculpture, which was installed about three weeks ago.

“Is everyone partying and having martinis on holiday in Vail? Maybe they are. I don’t mind that. And I’m not adverse to (the description.) I embrace what people see it as,” the Denver-based artist said during a phone interview Monday.

“At least it’s not a moose or a bear or a cowboy, and it’s making people talk about art, which is cool,” said Dan Telleen, owner of the nearby jewelry store Karats.

Argent is an art professor at the University of Denver. He’s perhaps best known for his 40-foot-tall big blue bear sculpture peeking into the Colorado Convention Center, called “I See What You Mean.”

This isn’t Argent’s first foray into the local art scene – he helped design the last three years of Triumph Winterfest ice sculpture exhibits in Vail. Solaris developer Peter Knobel saw Argent give a talk at Vail Mountain School, which is how they originally connected.

Knobel called the sculptures “fantastic.”

“I’m really happy with them,” he said. “I wanted it to be contemporary and to look different from other sculptures in town.”

And that, it does.

The other sculpture at the Solaris site, called “The Droplet,” was also sculpted by Argent. It’s nearly 30 feet tall and is made of cast bronze with a burnished patina. When the skating rink opens come Thanksgiving, the droplet will be lit from within with a 3-to-4 foot gas flame.

Argent also helped design the plaza, in conjunction with Davis Partnership, based on the principles of the Golden Mean Spiral.

The entire project cost around $1.4 million, according to Craig Cohn, director of sales, marketing and leasing for Solaris. The major theme is water, Argent said, though fire, water and ice are all represented.

“Water is liquid gold. It is vital to life and the connective element that joins us all,” Argent wrote in the 2007 proposal.

With that in mind, Argent used computer software to create an upward flow of water appearing to burst from the ground.

He froze the image and made the resulting structure out of steel.

“Its a technological breakthrough in many different ways, including the LED system,” Argent said. “We’ve created something that’s hypnotic and seductive.”

When the lights are moving slowly, the effect is indeed “calming,” Telleen said. “I heard people say Las Vegas when it was changing really fast. It’ll be fun to see it when it starts snowing.”

Argent’s goal with the lights, as well as with the project in general, was to “push the envelope of what art could be in Vail,” he said.

“I’m not creating Las Vegas, that’s not what I wanted to do here,” Argent said. “I wanted to be able to change the mindset or aesthetic about the possibility of what art could be in Vail.”

People’s perception of the “Water Tree” changes after they see it lit up at night.

“The people who don’t like it in the day, they come back at night and fall in love with it,” Knobel said.

In all, Argent spent three years working on the project.

“It’s a long journey when you’re building something that’s never been done before,” he said. “As simple as it looks, the complexity in the design, the engineering, is untold. Those are things that people can’t see. It’s an amazing bit of work.”

Doe Browning, chairman for Art in Public Places, called the piece “over the top.”

“It really meets the spirit of what public art is,” she said. “This is unquestionably art that can stand alone. I haven’t gotten any negative feedback, which is really exciting because everyone I know is pretty quick to tell me what they think since they know I’m on the board. This was a very complicated piece to install, but some things are worth waiting for.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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