Sculptor captures Ford family legacy in Vail amphitheater tribute |

Sculptor captures Ford family legacy in Vail amphitheater tribute

Daily staff report
Andy Dufford, lead artist and stone carver for Denver-based Chevo Studios, created the Ford Family Tribute.
Special to the Daily |

VAIL — The tremendous contributions that former President Gerald R. Ford, Betty Ford and the entire Ford family made to the quality of life in Vail are now etched in stone, courtesy of Andy Dufford and Chevo Studios, as the Ford Family Tribute now serves as the focal point for The Lobby, the new entry plaza for the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

A series of symbolic sculptures and interpretive elements, the Ford Family Tribute features an elliptical bench of buff sandstone circling the main mast of the The Lobby’s new canopy roof, serving as the fulcrum for the space. A hand-carved fountain anchors the stairs, while a timeline of stone and copper marks the milestones of the Ford’s contributions to the Vail community.

“The sculptural elements for the courtyard pay tribute to the Ford’s legacy of community involvement in the valley,” said Dufford, lead artist and stone carver for Denver-based Chevo Studios. “The bench acts as the ‘town center’ of the new space, inviting people to gather, converse and connect. The fountain is symbolic of the continuity of engagement and giving that makes Vail a special place and, just as water flows from vessel to vessel, the Ford’s example of generosity and engagement must pass from generation to generation. Creating a great community is a continual process and the timeline marks the milestones of the Fords contributions and highlights the positive changes that two committed individuals can make in their adopted community.”

Dufford and his colleagues at Chevo Studios have created over 40 permanent installations throughout the U.S., including Grand Canyon Amphitheater on the South Rim, Confluence Park in Denver and Agave in Phoenix’s Paseo Highlands Park.

He attributes his decision to become a stone carver to his father, along with having the ability to travel and live in Europe. During his time in Spain, he participated in an artist’s residency at La Rectoria in St. Pere Vilamajor, just outside of Barcelona.

“My father was from eastern Utah,” said Dufford, “and introduced me to the beauty of Canyon Country. My primary love of stone came from backpacking trips into those extraordinary environments. In addition, the old cities in Europe were built by hand and most often made of stone. Stone construction allows each succeeding generation to share the buildings, plazas and parks built by their ancestors and I strive to make timeless public spaces in that tradition.”

As a teenager, Dufford was apprenticed to a painter, moving on to earn his undergraduate degree in environmental design from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Along the way, he fell in love with rocks.

“I learned to carve by attending the annual stone carving symposium in Marble, Colorado,” said Dufford. “I call myself a stone carver, but even that description is incomplete. The work is really a hybrid of sculpture and landscape design. The work is dusty, heavy and challenging, but the offset is that the rewards are huge. We get to interact with a beautiful, primal material and make places that people will enjoy for hundreds of years.”

Finding the Perfect Rock

The stone for the Ford Family Tribute is quartzitic sandstone from the Arkins Park quarry west of Loveland. Each time Dufford visits a quarry in search of stone for a project, he looks for pieces that have complexity and character.

“I often tell clients that the rocks have the best ideas,” Dufford said. “My job is to find that special piece and bring out additional beauty through the carving process and by integrating the stone into our everyday environment.”

As you might suspect, it was a rock that brought Andy Dufford and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater together.

“Pedro Campos, from Zehren and Associates, the landscape architect for the Ford Amphitheater project, called me one day to say he knew of a 30-ton glacial boulder that I might be interested in,” Dufford said. “I came up to the Vail Valley to look at that stone and later that day, Pedro and I discussed the work at the Ford Amphitheater. I was immediately interested and worked with the team during both design and construction.”

“The team on this project has been incredible,” Dufford said. “The leadership from the Vail Valley Foundation, the great design work from Zehren and Associates and the tireless skill and problem solving during construction by the R.A. Nelson crew made for the critical mass to build a very special community space. I would also like to acknowledge my crew of Greg Amanti, Rachel Brenna, Carolyn Hales, Jake Puckett and Shane Becker for their artistry, skill and perseverance.”

And, it will probably not come as a surprise that Dufford’s new favorite project is the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

“I’m always the most excited by the project I’m currently working on,” Dufford said. “I look at the completed space, and I can’t believe the transformation that occurred over the winter. The new lobby is a delight. It’s friendly, humane and beautiful, and I expect the Vail community will enjoy many happy celebrations there for generations to come.”

The newly completed Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is scheduled to officially reopen for the summer season on Tuesday with the kick off performance of the Hot Summer Nights free concert series.

The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is a project of the Vail Valley Foundation. For more information on the amphitheater or its summer programming, please visit

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