Sign code could bar sculpture

Plans for a new sculpture in downtown Ashland could be blocked by the city's restrictive sign code.

But Ashland artist Kevin Christman, who created an intricately detailed sculpture of a crouching angel, hopes to find a way for it to be legally installed on a pedestal in front of Soundpeace.

Three-dimensional statues of merchandise cannot be used as signs under the Ashland Municipal Code.

Soundpeace is a retail store that sells spiritually oriented merchandise, including small statues of angels.

Christman will make his case that the sculpture should be allowed to the Ashland Public Arts Commission at an 8:15 a.m. meeting on Friday in the Community Development Building, 51 Winburn Way.

Local attorney and developer Lloyd Haines will also meet that morning with commissioners about eight murals he commissioned that had to be removed from the underside of a Lithia Way bridge in October. Haines did not seek an exemption from the city's sign code for the project or get permission from the Oregon Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the bridge.

Christman said he wants to try and head off any problems with the angel sculpture and follow proper procedures.

"I wanted to find out why there isn't more public sculpture," he said. "I want to go through the public process even though it's on private land. Lloyd Haines' project has been highlighting the gridlock that is happening. I want to avoid anything controversial."

Christman said he can see how city officials might interpret the sign code in a way that would block the sculpture's installation because of its thematic relationship to some merchandise in Soundpeace.

"I think it's a great place for the sculpture because it thematically fits with the spiritual and peaceful subject matter," he said.

But the sculpture was not designed for that location or created to be a three-dimensional sign for Soundpeace, Christman said.

Instead, he came up with the idea for the angel sculpture when the city of Ashland requested proposals from artists for a public art project at the corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street.

Portland artist Lonnie Feather was selected for the project. In 2006, she installed stone columns sandblasted with words and inset with glass.

That project was funded through a bequest from the estate of Everett McGee to honor the community contributions of the McGee and Neill families to Ashland.

"Another sculpture was selected, but I was so far in my mind I decided to do it. That was the genesis. My intention was for it to be shown in Ashland from the beginning," Christman said.

After 15 months spent sculpting, having bronze parts cast in Berkeley, Calif., welding the pieces together and adding finishing touches, the sculpture is complete, he said.

If the sculpture is installed, Christman will retain ownership of the art. He will pay for the cost of its installation, while the property's owners will pay for lighting. Christman said the sculpture is expensive, but he does not want its value publicized because of vandalism concerns.

He said he hopes the sculpture would be at less risk of vandalism because of the open, high-traffic location in front of Soundpeace.

"If it brings on the issue of vandalism, I want to take that on, too. The public has very little respect for sculptures for some reason," Christman said. "Why is it we can't have public sculpture that doesn't get stolen or broken in Grants Pass, Ashland or the rest of the Valley?"

The head of the Abraham Lincoln statue in Ashland's Lithia Park has been stolen multiple times, while Grants Pass has faced the theft of an otter sculpture along the Rogue River and vandalism of downtown bear sculptures and lighted holiday murals.

Although he sees problems with vandalism, Christman said many members of the public are also showing more concern about public sculptures by keeping an eye on art and telling others not to climb on pieces.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or

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