Sculptor's artistic vision shows lack of foresight

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

— The city wants to put up a marble sculpture of the Roman God Janus, but the plan appears to have a bit of a blind spot.

The 36-ton sculpture of Janus � the god of beginnings usually depicted with two bearded heads facing in opposite directions � has noses sticking out more than 2 feet, starting nearly 5 feet above a plaza.

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Workers put a fence in front of a piece of outdoor sculpture outside the Wellington E. Webb Office Building in downtown Denver. The 36-ton marble sculpture of the Roman God Janus was partially designed with disabled people in mind. But it has run afoul of a federal law that protects them: It may be dangerous for blind people.

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates anything that protrudes 4 inches or more above a height of 28 inches requires some kind of warning for blind people using canes.

"It is a good idea to do something about it before something happens. I am legally blind, so if I ran across it I might bump into it," said La Tonya Reeves of the Denver chapter of ADAPT, a disabled rights group.

The city and sculptor Larry Kirkland hope to find a way to protect the blind without degrading the sculpture or blocking people in wheelchairs from approaching. One idea under consideration is curb-like edging several inches high directly in front of the noses.

Thousands are expected to pass by Janus � designed by Kirkland with the disabled in mind � when the municipal building opens Oct. 4.

"It almost feels like skin," Kirkland said of Janus' marble surface. "Stone is one of the best materials for interaction with blind."

John Grant, who manages the city's collection of public art, also praised the piece.

"This is a very good example of a piece that people who are blind would enjoy having a dialogue with," he said. "It is tactile. It is designed to be touched and to be out in the elements."

The final solution for the Janus sculpture must be approved by the city's Commission for People with Disabilities.

"At the end of the day, it will be both a triumph for people with disabilities and the city," Grant said.

The sculpture was carved in Carrara, Italy, from marble taken from the same Tuscany mountainsides that produced the marble used for Michelangelo's Pieta.