Spirits in the wood
Ensign carved a total of 32 tree stump-sculptures – he affectionately refers to them as “YardBobs,” “HoosierDaddies” and “windspirits” – and placed them strategically along Colorado Highway 9 over Hoosier Pass. The chainsaw-carved faces are visible on the Summit and Park county sides of the pass, sitting above escarpments and nestled among the trees.
The sculptures attracted plenty of attention – several commuters who cross the pass called the Summit Daily News to suggest photographs of the art, but even more people decided to take one home for themselves.
“All the close ones were stolen, and some didn’t even last 24 hours,” Ensign said. “I haven’t even really done an inventory because I don’t want to get depressed. But the ones that are left are the real heavy ones that two people would have to carry off.”
So before all the YardBobs were gone, the Summit Daily News walked Hoosier Pass with Ensign to record the story of the spiritual sculptures.
A Park County character
Ensign wears more hats than the tattered straw one with the sawdust-spotted bandana.
“I’m an artist, a philosopher, a poet, astronomer, wizard, seer and a soothsayer,” he said. “And an out-of-work construction worker, and a politician.”
To clarify the latter, Ensign is Alma’s elected mayor. But he wasn’t always a carver of tree stumps. Five years ago, he said, his friend Willy Morrison died. Ensign said art was the only thing that seemed to fill the subsequent hole in his life. “A light bulb went off,” he said, and Ensign soon found himself carving chess sets.
Ensign crosses Hoosier Pass frequently on his way to Summit County – often trying to convince galleries to showcase his work. The drives planted a seed in his mind and gave him time to think.
“There used to be this art on the pass – we called it the “Wire Men,'” Ensign said. “The long-timers will remember it: It was just wire sculptures, and people would dress them up as the weather changed. It was public art for the locals, but then they just disappeared.”
No one ever really knew who first put the Wire Men there, but after feeling like something was missing from the drive, Ensign took it upon himself to fill the void. Sometime around Sept. 11 this year, he began planting the carved tree stumps.
“The first ones all had beards, but I decided they looked too much like Osama bin Laden,” Ensign said. “I shaved my beard off, and started carving the recent ones without beards, too.”
Spirits at play
Among his many other interests, Ensign also is a fan of mythology. His carvings, he said, come from Roman mythology.
“The way I understand it, Aeolus, god of the wind, had these two sons – Boreas and Zephyr,” Ensign said. “Boreas, the north wind – we know him because of that mountain right over there.”
Ensign pointed north to Boreas Pass and added, “Zephyr, the west wind, we see, but not a lot of people know it – it’s those funnels of wind the mountain makes.
“Well, Boreas and Zephry both had it for the princess Orithyia, a sea nymph, but Boreas just kidnapped her, married her and had all kinds of kids with her,” he said. “But no one ever knew where that foreign land was that he whisked her off to. I say it’s right here. So, these woodspirits are those offspring, and those wind funnels you see – that’s Zephyr searching all over for his lost love.”
The spirits play into Ensign’s choice of wood, as well. He thought about using native stumps on the pass, but found they were too rotten to work with. His wood of choice is bristlecone pine, because it’s one of the oldest organisms on the planet.
“Those trees have been here for a few thousand years,” Ensign said and traced his hand along Windy Ridge above the pass. “When I carve them, I’m cutting through all that history and opening it up.”
Ensign also joked, wondering if the people who took the stumps home knew what sort of spirits they were inviting into their house. “Not all of them were good, you know.”
Regardless of where his carvings disappeared, Ensign said he wishes more people would try their hand at public art. But, for the meantime, he’s had enough.
“This project is discontinued – I’m not going to try to keep up with the thieves,” Ensign said. “But if everyone did something like this, the world would be a pretty cool place to live again.”