Statues go missing around Castle Rock

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Philip S. Miller didn't remember there being any “good old days” when looking back on a lot of his life: It was all work, no social life, in the Depression. He had long days in his downtown Castle Rock butcher shop, and he ranched, and much later he started the Bank of Douglas — and he remembered in the early days he cleaned the bank, too.

He'd mop the bank floor and his wife did the dusting, he recalled in a 1988 Douglas County News-Press interview.

“'Bout all I knew was how to work,” he said.

Miller, while on the town board, fought for the town's first sewer system and electricity, both of which lost him customers who didn't think those things were necessary. He sponsored ball teams, contributed to college scholarships and donated the former city hall building to the town.

Then he really started spending money, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars building up the Douglas County library system. And at age 100, he passed away. And left more money, a trust fund to be used to make his town even better — and each year, it's used for such things as helping develop a park, or buying art.

That art includes the couple thousand dollars' worth of small bronze statues the Castle Rock Public Art Commission bought last year and placed around town. But Miller's sacrifices for his town won't be seen in the form of some of those statues.

Because a different kind of hard worker, or workers, have stolen them.

“They must have worked really hard,” said Hattie Reed, commission chair.

She said recently it was reported to her that three statues had vanished: The little bronze bird that looked like a sparrow called “Drifter,” which sat on the bench in front of Castle Rock Town Hall; and two of the three quail mounted on a rock off the Rock Park Trail.

Reed said Drifter, which was about 6 to 8 inches long and 4 inches high, was soldered and bolted in place — and the quail were cemented and bolted in rock.

“They had to have had a hacksaw or hammer,” she said.

“I'm so disappointed,” Reed said. “It's disappointment and amazement that someone would do that. It's a lack of integrity and respect of other people's property — and they're taking away the enjoyment of others, for the community enhancement.”

Those pieces as well as some that haven't been stolen, such as a spider under the bridge in Festival Park, and foxes on the Plum Creek Trail in The Meadows neighborhood, were all part of a project the commission called “Small Art in Unexpected Places.” The intent was to put art in places that would surprise hikers, bikers and visitors as they happened upon them.

Reed said the commission, which is responsible for numerous art installations around town, including the bronze of a cowboy and horse at Fifth and Gilbert streets, has been getting about $25,000 a year from the Miller fund, allocated by the Castle Rock City Council, and it also gets funding from Black Hills Energy and individuals.

Reed said the commission has been saving up for years to buy another large piece like the horse and cowboy, which will cost between $50,000 and $60,000 — so that was another reason they decided to buy small statues last year.

The commission is also in charge of an art-on-loan program that brings different art pieces to various town locations.

Last year, a loaned piece worth thousands of dollars was stolen from Butterfield Crossing Park. Reed said it mysteriously returned after a month, but the thief or thieves just left it and didn't repair the damage. It needed to be repainted and soldered again.

“I value and enjoy art, so I love driving by and seeing art,” she said. “I think it can be thought-provoking … It creates conversation — some positive, some negative — but that's art's job, to create conversation.”

She also said a lot of children never have the opportunity to go to an art museum. If exposed to public art, “you never know where they may take them.”

Miller said in the 1988 interview that the new library he built on part of his former ranch — which is now Daniel C. Oakes High School, 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd. — was “my baby.”

“I'd do anything for the library,” said Miller, who had a grammar school education, and was once told by a Denver businessman that a library system would do more for people than anything else he could contribute.

He gave. It's hoped a thief or two or more will give back.