Airport sculpture

From left, TEX manger Kenneth Maenpa, sculptor Richard Arnold and airport authority board chair Mick Francis at the June 17 dedication of Arnold’s new piece “Charlie,” which embodies the youthful passion many in the aviation field share. (Courtesy photo) 

When local sculptor Richard Arnold talks about the Telluride Regional Airport (TEX), he fondly refers to it as “my airport.” Many may know Arnold’s bronze artwork, including the “Sofia” statue outside of the Telluride Middle/High School near the bus stop, but it may be a surprise to some that Arnold was the TEX airport manager 34 years ago from 1988-92 before he decided to give sculpting a go. 

“I was the airport manager about 34 years ago, married Marshall Whiting and left the airport to start a career as a sculptor,” he explained, adding his passion for aviation led him into the field. 

Recently, TEX authority board commissioned Arnold to do a piece of a young boy dressed as an aviator holding a toy plane. Current airport manager Kenneth Maenpa explained that the idea came about a couple of years ago during a conversation between him and Arnold about his previous career, including his time at TEX. Many who get into the aviation field develop a passion for the skies early on, he added. 

“Considering his remarkable skills as an artist as he shared many pictures of his past work, I thought it would be awesome to commission him to do a sculpture for the airport,” Maenpa said. “The vision for the piece was a culmination of our passion for aviation that was born at the age of nine or 10 years old when we attended our first air show or visited an aviation museum. Most pilots and aviation enthusiasts seem to have that common narrative when you ask when they became interested in aviation.”

A small dedication ceremony to unveil “Charlie” was held in June and the reception has been great, according to Maenpa. 

“The authority board members and visitors alike seem to enjoy the work and identify with the sculpture in a very positive way,” he said. 

Arnold’s process includes using photographs of models before sculpting and casting the sculpture. For his airport piece, Arnold used reference pictures of a 10-year-old model, sculpted a life-size model before casting it in bronze in Utah. 

“The airport wanted something to make people smile as they entered the airport, and the board members suggested doing a child holding an airplane, wearing his dad’s jacket and goggles,” Arnold explained. 

Like Maenpa, Arnold could deeply relate to the concept, and he couldn’t be happier with the finished product at his airport. 

“I feel that the finished project was great and very meaningful. I played with a toy airplane at that age, and later became a flight instructor and air charter operator. I was the airport manager at the Aspen airport before Telluride, too,” he said. “Being able to do a bronze sculpture at my airport was a great and humbling experience.”

With a nice new entry piece, more and more people are enjoying it, as business has been doing well this summer, Maenpa said, following a tough year for aviation, like many other industries. 

“Business is good at TEX. We are up over the year 2020 in every index including fuel sales, aircraft operations and commercial airline enplanements,” he added. 

The Denver Air service from TEX to Denver International Airport will continue to run daily through to winter, according to an air update shared by the Telluride Tourism Board earlier this month. 

“Summer bookings have remained strong and generally consistent, with a few ups and downs by week. Overall pace for the May through October summer period is running about 20 percent up compared to 2019. The gains are spread evenly over the months from early to late season, i.e. not concentrated in a particular month or time period,” the report, which featured numbers and information from the Colorado Flights Alliance, read. “Contributing to that spread, this fall/shoulder will feature multiple daily options. United DEN and American DFW will continue to operate daily/several daily, and Southwest will fly DEN five times weekly (from Montrose Regional Airport).”