Grin and bare it? 

Nude art debate flares up in Manitou Springs

click to enlarge Controversy surrounding male statuettes in the window - of Nelsons Antique Bazaar has Manitous streets - buzzing. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL DE YOANNA
  • Photo by Michael de Yoanna
  • Controversy surrounding male statuettes in the window of Nelsons Antique Bazaar has Manitous streets buzzing.

The buzz began weeks ago, in front of Charlie's Pit BBQ on Manitou Avenue. Just two days after a bronze Great Dane statue was installed on a city sidewalk, Mayor Marcy Morrison ordered it removed.

"It was anatomically correct let's put it that way," says Brian Powers, a local worker who broke out laughing when he saw the statue in the city's center. "It was very well-endowed and lying on its back. A lot of people were offended."

The statue, one of three donated by artists to help revitalize art in Manitou Springs, wasn't a casualty of censorship, Morrison says. It simply wasn't the one City Council had agreed to display on the city-owned property.

"That was not the dog that we chose from the photograph," Morrison says, adding that another dog sculpture by the same artist was put in the space, in an unauthorized switch, apparently because the original had been sold.

In a town known by its conservative neighbor to be relatively anything-goes, the issue may have been considered a rare hiccup. But last week, a 10-year-old girl reignited the debate regarding the appropriateness of naughty bits in public view.

The girl, Cheyne Landrum, complained to the Manitou Springs City Council about nude male and female statuettes in the window of Nelson's Antique Bazaar.

"She thought it was inconsistent that the dog had to go, but not the statues," says her mother, Aimee Cox. "She's very smart that way, and wanted to get engaged in civic life, which I encourage. The penises and everything were hanging out at her eye level."

Morrison thought Landrum merely came to express her opinion to city officials, but didn't expect any change.

"I felt that was the intent," Morrison says.

City Administrator Verne Witham contacted owner Larry Nelson after Landrum spoke to the council.

"I did nothing more than kindly ask if he'd consider removing the statues from the window because there was a 10-year-old girl involved," he says.

Witham adds that he merely made a request, because Nelson's shop is privately owned.

"There's probably nothing legally we can do about it," he says. "We wouldn't infringe on rights."

Nonetheless, it has left Nelson fretting.

"Do these look like art to you?" he asks, pointing to a nude male bronze statuette. "They're not sexual. These are sculptures."

He also fears the controversy will leave some to conclude that his store sells obscene items, rather than the rare antiques, memorabilia, treasures from abroad, swords and figurines that clutter it.

City Council hasn't officially stepped into the fray and probably won't, Morrison says. However, other members of the council say they're still studying the matter.

Last week, Nelson, concerned by the city's reaction to the complaint, taped plastic fig leaves to the figures bestowed with larger penises. He left other statuettes, such as a replica of an ancient nude archer and several female figurines, as they were.

"I've had nude women statues in the window for years," he says. "Nobody ever complained."

Cox and her daughter returned to the site afterward to see Nelson's changes. There were still nude statuettes in the window, but some were covered, Cox notes.

"From my daughter's view, it's a little better," she says. "But there's still a naked lady lying under a sign that reads, "May all your Christmas dreams come true.' I mean, please."

It's all likely far from over. Since Cox's last visit, Nelson has removed the fig leaves. An unnamed city official visiting the shop wasn't offended by the statuettes, Nelson says, which prompted his returning the statuettes to their natural state.

"So we're back where we started," he says.

Nelson has also added a sign to his window. It reads: "Art is meant to disturb."



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