The John Otto Sculpture Unveiling

John Otto: ”Man With a Monumental Vision”

Friday, Oct. 7, 2011 • 5:30 PM

Second & Main, across from Two Rivers Convention Center
Including Chautauqua performers John Stansfield (Otto) & Lee Stetson (Muir)
Reception to follow at Two Rivers Convention Center Courtyard
Benefit Concert with Stray Grass at Mesa Theater 8 PM

About the sculpture: From all accounts John and his dog were a breed of their own, restless within the city but right at home while venturing into the open countryside. His horse Rowdy, dependable and surefooted, keeps a steady stance, allowing John a clear and focused view of the trail to be carved. While John has a vision for the future, his dog has his sights on a concern of his own.

Sculptor: J. Michael Wilson

John Otto: December 30, 1870 – June 19, 1952

John Otto, the “Hermit of Monument Canyon,” looked over nearby sculpted canyonlands and imagined a grand tourist destination where others saw only inaccessible desert cliffs and acres of prickly-pear cactus not suitable for farming or grazing. Convinced others would share his vision if they could just see those sandstone vistas, Otto blasted trails by dynamite and pickax, with dogs, burros and a horse for companions. One of his engineering marvels was the Serpents Trail, which literally snaked up 2 ½ miles with 54 switchbacks. Missouri-born Otto made his way to the Grand Valley around 1906 to work as a “powder monkey” – someone who works with explosives – on a Fruita water pipeline crew. On the wild uplift to the south he found a landscape big enough for his dreams. Possessed of a kind of manic patriotism, the union organizer and progressive thinker on previous occasions had been jailed and once committed to an asylum for perceived threats against three governors. But here he focused his considerable energy on conservation. Though he largely lived alone, he wasn’t a loner. Otto launched an exhaustive letterwriting campaign to local newspapers, lobbying for the canyonlands to become a national park for all to enjoy. He also served as enthusiastic tour guide, trailing up on horseback groups of town residents and business leaders in hopes of earning their support. Ultimately his tireless advocacy worked, and Colorado National Monument was established on May 24,1911, by President William H. Taft. A month later Otto married Boston artist Beatrice Farnham at the base of Independence Monument. The marriage was short-lived, she leaving just two months later and saying by way of explanation, “I tried hard to live his way, but I could not live with a man to whom even a cabin was an encumbrance.” Otto was named the monument’s first custodian at $1 a month salary, a job he held until the bureaucratic realities eclipsed his enthusiasm. He moved to Yreka, California, around 1933 to pan gold along the Klamath River, never returning to the 20,000-acre monument that surely would not have existed without this tireless trail builder.


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