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Should bench be benched? Well, take a seat

Those Doritos on the “cob” bench are not an attempt at a new organic covering. (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: Could you dig up some dirt on the “cob bench” thing in Buckley Park? It was kerplunked there years ago without permission. Winter was not kind to this lumpy brown mass. Maybe it needs a floral pattern with throw pillows to make it more homey and welcoming, perhaps fronted with a coffee table of upcycled pallets. Give the park that authentic mountain slum look that tourists find so charming. – Hip E. Sofa

Dear Hip E.: Yes, the “cob” or “mud” bench definitely needs some reupholstering. But it may have some life left. If it had a “free” sign on it, someone would swing by and snag it as a fixer-upper, right?

We’ll start with some informative background, during which you can share the thrills of the fascinating journey that Action Line pursued to get an answer. But here’s a spoiler alert: The artist/builder began repair work Thursday.

Some history: This bench was built in 2011 as part of a sustainability conference at Buckley Park. Former city councilor and mayor Jasper Welch, when contacted for this story, said that it was part of what was supposed to be a temporary exhibit. But without a permit, a concrete and stone foundation was placed there and the mud bench built into it.

The bench has its fans, but Welch is not among them. He pointed out that it got there without public input or permission, which can’t be said for any other piece of artwork in town. Welch’s Durango Space, a remote-workspace business he owns and operates, was for several years directly across from the mud bench on Main. He saw it all the time, including in the reflection of his business’ glass windows as he walked by.

“The problem is there’s nothing behind the stucco finish,” he said. “It’s just disintegrating.”

Buckley is owned by Durango School District 9-R, and by popular demand has remained a park despite efforts to make it something else. Since 2013 the 4.3-acre parcel has been leased by the city of Durango and maintained by parks and recreation. It’s possible that one day our fair city will own it, but we don’t need to get into that.

Action Line’s first inquiry about the status of the bench was directed toward the lessee. From the city, it was learned that the rumor that parks Director Ture Nycum was taking pottery classes in order to fix the bench has no merit. And that 9-R, the lessor, would know more.

“We Durangoans love our controversial art, don’t we?” responded Karla Sluis, 9-R public information officer. She provided more background:

“Once upon a time (in 2011), a local artist had a vision. He was guided to create a large lump of red clay that people could sit upon, find shelter from the Southwest sun, gaze upon the gently swaying pines, and watch meter readers give parking tickets. The artist, who was named Cuatro Kruse, coaxed the earth into a sinuous curve – like Neanderthal furniture for ‘The Simpsons.’

“The owners of the land were much surprised, as they did not grant permission for a dusty dirt sofa. The artist shared the importance of the brown lump with the leaders of the school district at that time, and they agreed that it could remain in place.”

Sluis said that Kruse did “re-mud” the bench a few years back, but time and repeated sled crashes have taken their erosive toll. Like it or not, it’s become an iconic part of Buckley Park.

“It’s the thing that looks like dinosaur doo-doo,” said Ron Reed, 9-R manager of custodial services. “I’ve sat in it. It’s nice in the shade.”

Kruse, who grew up in Durango, recently moved to Pagosa Springs, and he responded promptly to an Action Line email:

“Yes, it seems the winter hit the bench pretty hard this year. It has been challenging to keep it in pristine condition without a roof over it. (The school district) allowed me to finish the bench in 2011, but refused to let me build a roof over it. I am working with the Parks and Recreation Department … to build a roof structure in the coming years.”

Kruse said the bench generally needs replastering every two to three years, and that he planned to repair it this month. Temperatures need to be above freezing, and May is about the soonest the weather is conducive.

“My intention is to continue maintenance on the bench for as long as it takes to keep it as a part of our vibrant community,” Kruse said. “I am close enough to keep up the work. Once I am able to build a roof over it, the plaster should last much longer.”

After Action Line had written and filed this piece, Kruse did indeed begin repair work. That meant a rewrite for Action Line, but you won’t hear complaining about all that difficult, extra work.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Kruse’s actual name is Edward Cruse IV. As well as a permaculture builder, he is known by many as a musician.

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