Art project to grind on without gear |

Art project to grind on without gear

BRECKENRIDGE – Howie Cohen wants his bike gear back.

The Breckenridge man donated the giant, one-of-a-kind Sugino gear to the Chris Ethridge Memorial Committee to be used in a piece of art to commemorate Ethridge’s spirit and life. Ethridge was killed in a hit-and-run accident while he was riding his bike in Boulder County in October 2001.

Friends of Ethridge’s formed a committee to commission a piece of art in their friend’s memory. And Cohen, a longtime friend of Ethridge’s, said he would donate the giant sprocket to an artist if he or she wanted it for incorporation into a piece.

But Cohen, who served on the memorial committee until he became frustrated with the way things were being run, doesn’t like the two pieces in contention to honor his friend.

Ethridge, a co-owner of Great Adventure Sports in Breckenridge, was known for his easygoing attitude, his broad smile and willingness to help others. He was an avid bicyclist, skier, hockey player and snowshoer and worked for 10 years as a volunteer firefighter on the Red, White and Blue Fire Department in Breckenridge. The memorial committee, assisted by the Breckenridge Public Arts Commission, asked artists to incorporate those elements in their proposals.

“They’re very artsy and beautiful,” Cohen said. “But we’re doing something that’s supposed to memorialize Chris. When I think of Chris, I want to be happy, and those pieces don’t make me happy. I hope they give me permission to rescind my offer.”

Friday, he told the committee he wanted the gear back, but if it was crucial to either piece, he would reluctantly relinquish it.

“If he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t want to do it,” said committee member Ben Gordon. “It’s not going to take away from the piece. It’s sort of a shame, though, because he was an integral part of Chris’ life.”

Artist Chaz dellaPorta said he wouldn’t change his piece much if Cohen takes back his gear.

“My use of the bicycle gear is a quiet usage, and the main thrust (of) the piece isn’t affected,” he said. “The knowledge and history would only be attainable to a few people. To everyone else, they might recognize it as a bicycle gear, they might not. They might be scratching their heads.”

Artist Brian Howard agreed.

“I can understand,” he said. “He gave it up saying it was open to artists’ interpretation, and if he’s not happy with the pieces, he shouldn’t feel obligated to give it to us.”

The committee was scheduled vote on the two pieces Wednesday.

Cohen said he thinks the gear should be used in an upright position, as it is on a bike. He also said he thinks the public won’t understand the abstract pieces.

“When you read the artists’ conceptions, it all makes sense,” he said. “But people who look at the art aren’t going to be reading those words.”

Mark Taylor, another Great Adventure Sports owner, said he initially was excited about both pieces.

“When they came to fruition, they weren’t the same,” he said. “I’m not that psyched about either one.”

Cohen said he would have preferred it if an artist had used the gear as the face of a clock. Early on, he proposed that his friend, Ken Staumm, build such a clock and mount it on a transparent box in which a long bike chain appeared to rotate the gears. The hands of the clock, Cohen said, could have been made using a ski, piece of fire hose or bike part.

But Staumm didn’t submit an entry – and the group didn’t want to tell an artist what to design, noted committee member Maureen Hyland.

“The committee offered to help him,” said Jenn Cram, a town planner on the board. “He said he was not interested.”

DellaPorta said it’s difficult for him to make a three-dimensional sculpture using a plane as an element.

“The purpose of my sculpture is that if you’re standing at 12 o’clock and don’t bother to walk to 4 or 8, you’ve missed out on a potential viewpoint,” he said. “I don’t want to tell people what they’re looking at.”

“This is supposed to be a memorial for Chris, and I don’t think they’ve done it,” Cohen said. “I was at the bike shop (Great Adventure Sports, where the maquettes were on display last week), and I read the words the artists had written. I had tears in my eyes for Chris and an ache in my heart for this project.”

“This is not about you,” said committee member Kim O’Brien, who worked with Ethridge on the Red, White and Blue Fire Department. “It’s about Chris. We all have our personal ideas, but when we’re in a group, we need to let those go.”

Monique Merrill, Ethridge’s girlfriend, said she was saddened by Friday’s discussion.

“I feel this committee was set up so everyone could get something out of it,” she said. “I wished everyone loved one piece, but that’s not going to happen. I’d put something totally different up there. I could care less if it’s a rock, or a stick … To walk away with hard feelings from this is not what Chris would have wanted.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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