Good fences make good playgrounds |

Good fences make good playgrounds

Wren Wertin
Ramon Rodriguez, right, and Pedro Cruz install a fence, made by a Denver artist, in Donovan Park in west Vail on Tuesday October 1, 2002.

This is no chain-link eyesore or white-picket cliche. It’s a curvacious experience, seeming to blow in the wind as it follows the line of a stone wall. Made of wrought iron and rough-hewn cedar, it’s the new fence in Vail’s Donovan Park.

Elaine Calzolari, a former Vail resident, designed it at the behest of Vail’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) board. She was asked to create it with a pioneer theme in mind. Many designs and collaborative pow-wows later, the fence was born.

“Honestly, it’s far better than anyone expected,” she said. “I especially like how it curves with the wall.”

She describes herself as an abstractionist, but something in the playful element of the project appealed to her. She is completely pleased with the end result.

The fence is made of four panels, each depicting a different motif, that repeat. Two of them represent nature – sunshine and water – and two reflect a historical aspect – windmills and wagon wheels. Calzolari remembers her favorite windmill in Eagle County, found in Wolcott. It went the way of the dodo when the golf course went in.

“This park is for locals, so we wanted to reference things in Vail,” she said.

The panels are bold in their lines and seem to be moving.

In addition to the fence, Calzolari also helped design two other structures that may or may not go in, depending on the weather. They wanted to make a covered place for parents from which they could watch their kids. Calzolari created a gazebo-meets-windmill idea. A smaller one will also be built for the kids as a playhouse.

She likes working collaboratively with people, and has been for quite some time. She was one of the first Colorado artists to get into public art. Her first commission was for Rocky Mountain Energy, the mineral division of Union Pacific Railroad. For that she created four pillars of rocks based on standing stone formations found in the West.

What would she make if she had no committee to work with, no budget to comply with?

“Nothing,” she said, vehemently. “I would be bored to pieces. The idea of going into a studio and just making your own thing – what’s the point of that? Who cares what you would make for yourself? Working with other people forces you to do something you wouldn’t normally do. You have to really trim your idea to the salient facts. This project is a good example – when I first heard “pioneer theme’ I thought hokey, cutesy. But I’m not pictorial. I don’t do cute – and I didn’t. But I never would have designed this otherwise.”

Calzolari cites learning about the wonderful world of plasma cutting as a major benefit of the Donovan Park project. Her initial design involved welding many iron pieces together, very time consuming and costly. Board chairman Kathy Langenwalter brought up plasma cutting, a process that cuts away various parts of a steel sheet in exact conformance with the artist’s design. That not only knocked the price down significantly, but it also made it easier to roll each panel so it curves along with the wall.

The panels are black and smooth with their coating, a powder coating that literally has ceramic beads in the material. The entire thing is placed in a large oven and baked, glazing it uniformly. It’s virtually impervious to the elements.

“I think the fence is just spectacular,” said Leslie Fickling, of AIPP. “Bill Butler, who is installing it, wants to really start encouraging people to have artists design fences. Todd Oppenheimer, our architect, says there’s really a connective element between the restrooms, the fence and the play structures. He’s very pleased.”

Donovan Park, located on the frontage road near west of Cascade Village, is still under construction. Currently closed to the public, they expect to have it partially open later this month. The grand opening won’t be until next summer.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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