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Neighbors in Denver enclave get into alley crafts

COLLEEN O'CONNOR
The Denver Post
This Feb. 6, 2010 picture shows a mosaic entitled "Buella the Brown Cow" in the Bonnie Brae neighborhood of Denver. A group of neighbors are taking back their alleys and making them into friendly places, mostly by making art for them. Years ago, they had the "Alley Wars," fighting the city to get dumpsters out their alleys. Now they are making beautiful mosaic pieces and hanging them in alleys. There are giraffes, cows, Lilies of the Alley, a pink flamingo drinking wine. Neighbors gather in the basement at Wendy Lesko's to make the mosaics. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler) ** MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT; TV OUT **
AP | The Denver Post

DENVER – After Wendy Lesko was done decorating her backyard with handcrafted mosaics, she decided to hang her latest piece – an elegant giraffe in a desert oasis – in the alley behind her Bonnie Brae house.

“I saw her art in the alley and thought it would be a great idea to encourage people to clean up the alleys,” said her friend and neighbor, Donna Mosely.

Alleys bring out the best in the people of Bonnie Brae, who are known as fierce defenders of the narrow lanes that snake behind their streets. Years ago, they waged “The Alley Wars,” fighting the city to remove trash bins that cluttered the alleys, a battle won when they attached the bins to their cars and hauled them off to a nearby park.

“People let garbage sit out there or weeds grow,” Mosely said.

Inspired by the idea of beautifying the alleys, she asked Lesko to help her make a mosaic of a Hawaiian beach, which quickly drew other neighbors to the mission.

“We had a competition to see who could do the best part,” Mosely said.

Evonne Dunn made the best sand because she’s detail-oriented. After tile was shattered with a hammer, she excelled at putting the tiny pieces together like an intricate puzzle. No one else had the patience.

That simple start inspired the neighbors to transform their alleys into a showcase for creativity and personality and spruce them up for such events as the neighborhood “Alley Cat” parties.

“A lot of people walk up and down our alleys, and everyone waves to each other through the fences,” said Jayne Russell. “It’s become another sidewalk.”

Since 2008, they’ve installed six alley-art mosaics, including lilies and cows, some as large as 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall.

They’re made mostly of recycled tiles, most left over from remodeling projects. Diane Heidel’s cow has pieces of her basement in it. “Hawaiian Paradise” includes bits of the Moselys’ bathroom.

A point of pride is how each mosaic reflects the personality of the artist-homeowner.

Jayne Russell, a food-and- wine writer who loves to ride Harleys, is piecing together a pink flamingo in sunglasses with a glass of wine. She got one of her biker friends, an airbrush artist named Mel Fox, to create the drawing for the mosaic.

At the end of this month, she’ll host the traditional unveiling party and mount the wine-sipping flamingo in the alley, next to the cabernet sauvignon grapevine that festoons her back fence.

It will hang near “Lilies of the Alley,” by Linda Roberts, an expert gardener who loves flowers.

Across the alley, another neighbor – whose gardens are

Click on image to enlarge abundant with fruits and vegetables – will soon start a mosaic that features a wheelbarrow of fruit.

Someone else plans to start a zebra.

“We’re trying to get it in every alley in Bonnie Brae,” said Lesko, the driving force behind the Bonnie Brae Alley Art Consortium.

“Some people have garden tours,” she said. “We could have alley tours.”

When Russell first heard of alley art, she immediately thought of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she often travels with her husband.

“They have lots of public art and really cool statues,” she said. “The idea of putting art into our community was so appealing.”

Of course, there’s always some critic who will ask: “Yes, but is it really art?”

Lesko doesn’t hesitate.

“Who really cares?” she responds. “It’s in the alley.”

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com


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