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Our View: Bison murals worth keeping

Owner wants them down as talk turns from appreciation to genitalia

Public art sparks spirited conversations. But conversations coming from the recently completed bison murals in Mancos have degraded from the beauty, relevance and cultural significance of the artwork to the genitalia of the animals. The artwork on two sides of an industrial building, seen from U.S. Highway 160 on the west end of town, pays homage to the importance of bison to Colorado Utes. The finished artwork is not to the building owner’s taste. And he wants it down. Now.

Locals in Mancos, population 1,221, have a lot to say about the situation. Off the record, that is. Complicating conversations is that owner Jury Krajack has a downtown stretch of rental properties. No one wants to chance retaliation. This gets in the way of transparent talk about how this situation snowballed to where it is now.

Locals will say, though, they appreciate the murals. Previously a chipped Pepto-Bismol pink, the building was painted a smoky, rusty sandstone, a backdrop that blends seamlessly into surrounding landscape. Movement is captured in the swish of a bison’s tail. Broad, majestic shoulders show power of physique with calves playing in the background. The eye does not go to genitalia – completely natural in its rendition – but to the sweeping beauty of these animals key to Ute culture.

We are among those scratching heads. The artwork is fitting and suits Mancos’ slogan of “where the West stills lives.” The murals are stunning.

Living in Florida, Krajack’s only on-the-record comment is, “It was not authorized.” As in, by him.

We’re hearing different stories of how and when the arrangement went sideways. Of note, though, is the owner’s strong reaction and dislike in polar opposition to art lovers who’ve said – off the record – Krajack doesn’t like the hind part of the animal in front view, along with the genitalia.

Scoring muralist Chip Thomas for this project was a feat. Thomas is renowned for The Painted Desert Project, a constellation of murals on the Navajo Nation. Thomas, also a physician, has dedicated his life’s work to health care and the beautification of the reservation. If Thomas set out to match artwork with “where the West stills lives,” he nailed it.

When asked about his preferred outcome, Thomas said: “It’s really up to the community. I’ve invested the work with love and let it go.”

In 1887, British photographer Eadweard Muybridge documented a bison running. When Thomas’ work was done, he projected Muybridge’s bison over the murals, bridging some history. A finishing touch, a thoughtful commemoration we would like to have witnessed.

Yes, this is private-property-rules country. And Krajack owns that building. We’d just like a compromise brokered so the murals can stay. Gifts to the community.

The irony of it all is too much. White men eradicated the bison. A white man would like to eradicate this art.

One in-town resident said the owner would have preferred a cattle-drive scene, more cowboy than Indian. A cattle-drive mural already graces the west side of a liquor store. Wouldn’t a Native American nod complement what’s already there?

Someone who does not have a stake but a perspective is Margaret Hunt, former director of Colorado Creative Industries Division under the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Hunt said: “Public art adds meaning to our creative districts and uniqueness to our communities. When so many cities look the same, what better symbol than an image of a bison?

“Murals help a community tell the story about its unique identify and what it values. A sad part of our history is what happened to Native American people and the way of life we trampled. It’s just unfortunate that it continues to happen.”

T.J. Zark, president of the Mancos Creative District, said, “This is an ongoing situation and we can’t comment at this time.”

Ideally, this turn of events inspires other property owners to offer space for public art. We see the bison murals as adding value to this property. Already, locals and tourists stop and take pictures. And we’re talking about what these murals say about this community, and the differences that stir inside us.