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John Kobald has long had a fascination with mountain lions.“The first time I ever saw a mountain lion, I was captivated,” Kobald said. “It’s a very proud and confident animal.”
It would seem fitting, then, the local artist
would be commissioned by the Meeker Chamber of Commerce to commemorate an animal that is so connected to the history of the area.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, hunted mountain lions in Rio Blanco County. In fact, for a long time he held the world record for the size of mountain lion he shot here.
“That’s why we wanted to do a mountain lion (sculpture),” Kobald said. “Teddy hunted cats out here quite a bit. He actually killed his (world record) cat between Meeker and Rangely. It is something that is representative not only of Meeker, but the whole area.”
The 9.5-foot tall mountain lion sculpture created by Kobald will be dedicated at a public ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the corner of Fifth Street and Highway 13 in Meeker.
Chamber Executive Director Suzan Pelloni is hoping for Chamber-like weather on the day the big cat will be permanently displayed.
“Of course,” she said of her weather prediction. “Sunny and 72.”
Pelloni said the Chamber of Commerce was excited to have the project culminate with Friday’s dedication.
“This public art project originated just over a year ago with the intention of beautifying Market Street (Highway 13) as well as to lead people into Meeker’s historic downtown,” Pelloni said.
Working from a photograph, Kobald created the bronze mountain lion sculpture, which he started working on last spring.
In addition to being an artist — Kobald teaches watercolor painting for Colorado Northwestern Community College — he is a professional guide for hunting and fly fishing.
“I’ve been guiding here in the valley for about 15 years,” he said.
As an artist, Kobald is proud to have been involved in the mountain lion project.
“It’s an honor,” said Kobald, who also did a painting of a Ute dancer that was used in the poster for the first-ever Smoking River Powwow in July.
The mountain sculpture was cast at a foundry in Paonia.
“It’s a fairly long process,” Kobald said. “When they cast it, it’s done in 22 pieces, and then welded back together.”
The bigger-than-life-size statue was designed to stand out.
“It’s designed for that area, because, typically, a life-size cat is not that big,” Kobald said. “I think it’s a great location. I think it’s the best spot in town. The chamber had some consultants come through who said you need something on this corner.”
The project is part of the chamber’s community beautification effort.
Pelloni said the public art concept originated from a Colorado Revitalization Partnership Program in 2005.
“The program’s mission was to assess opportunities through discussion and interviews with key stakeholders and strategize best ‘next steps’ to sustain and expand Meeker’s retail businesses,” Pelloni said.
Kobald also credited First National Bank of the Rockies, which owns the property where the statue will be located.
“They are allowing us to put it there,” Kobald said.
The feeling is mutual, said Kim Brown, bank manager.
“The stunning mountain lion bronze created by John Kobald is a credit to our community,” Brown said. “It captures Meeker’s relationship with the great outdoors and calls attention to the significant historical wealth of our area. I am sure that all who travel through the area will appreciate seeing it and hope that it will entice them to investigate our town further, discovering what a wonderful place it is. FNBR is honored to be able to provide the location along Market Street where it will be displayed.”
Kobald started out by first creating a nine-inch-tall model of the mountain lion sculpture, and then he made a 23-inch piece. He donated both of those to the chamber to sell to help raise money for the project.
So far, more than $37,000 in donations has been raised. An additional $4,000 is needed to finish paying for the project.
Kobald comes by his artistic bent naturally.
“My father is also a sculptor,” he said.
In fact, Kobald’s father had a role in helping name the mountain lion sculpture, called “On the Cliffs at Twilight.”
“My dad and my wife and I were talking,” Kobald said of the naming process. “They’re better at that stuff than I am.”
Kobald’s parents will be on hand for the dedication.
This isn’t the first big sculpture Kobald has done. He also created a seven-foot-long snapping turtle, which weighed 650 pounds, that is on display in a public park outside of Chicago. And he is doing a red-tailed hawk for Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.
But doing the mountain lion sculpture was different for Kobald, because it was for the town where he lives.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s been an honor to do a piece that is representative of the area.”