The fascinating kinetic sculptures by acclaimed artist Starr Kempf are much beloved by the citizens of Colorado Springs. In all the years that I've been blogging, I've barely mentioned these graceful pieces that are so much a part of the fabric of our city. That's because after Mr. Kempf's suicide in 1995 at the age of 77, his legacy resulted in a great deal of rancor between his heirs (specifically his daughter Lottie) and his former neighbors and friends. There was a lot of bad blood. I don't know if the situation has been completely resolved to everyone's satisfaction, or if it's more like just an uneasy truce. I do know that after quite a lot of litigation, the Kempf family was forced to take down some of his beautiful works. What a pity that was for all of us! Several are still left standing though, and we adore and enjoy them. One piece made its way downtown after the lawsuit was settled. It's located on Colorado between Nevada and Tejon, next to the Plaza of the Rockies (I featured it on my blog long ago, HERE -- the only time I've so much as mentioned Mr. Kempf). I don't know where the other dismantled mobiles ended up.
Kempf's home sits at the entrance to Cheyenne Canon, in a neighborhood that's secluded, exclusive and beautiful. Most of the houses in this particular spot sit on large, treed lots. There is always a bit of tourist traffic during the daytime, with people either headed for Helen Hunt Falls or Seven Falls, so it's nice that the homes are set back from the road a bit. The Kempf house sits more or less on a corner, a nice spot to display his 40-50 foot tall works of art. There is a tiny parking spot across the road, where all day long you'll see cars pulling in and out, their occupants dashing across the street to snap a few quick pictures. I think it's a constant, niggling invasion that to some degree still bothers the neighbors, and that's part of why I have put off blogging about Kempf. They've lived with it for a very long time, though. It's hard for me to remember the details of the dispute after all these years, but I believe it originated with Lottie, who wanted to capitalize on her father's legacy by doing tours. Big buses dropping off loads of tourists to the house understandably did not sit well with the neighbors, nor did it go over with some of her family members. There was a protracted legal battle that involved the City of Colorado Springs. It got uglier and uglier, largely because of Lottie's stubbornness and legal shenanigans, including claiming that zoning laws did not apply to her. She was, in short, a lousy neighbor. But public opinion was on her side, believe it or not, probably because we simply didn't understand exactly what the neighbors were going through! And how obnoxiously she was behaving. There is an article HERE that explains the whole ugly mess. I don't know when it was written, but I'm guessing around 2000 or 2001.
At the beginning of all that nonsense, in 1996, I had the unique experience of shooting a magazine cover and editorial with several models at the Kempf estate (and also at the Broadmoor Hotel, where TV news crews and a Gazette photographer followed us around and got in the way). I had heard that things had started to get weird between the Kempfs and the neighbors at that point, but it was well before the situation had come to a head. It was an incredible day. I never thought in a million years that I'd find myself behind those gates! The family and a very nice intern (or possibly a grandson or nephew of Starr's) also invited us inside the house, where they gave us a private tour of the basement and workshop. Starr's sculptures were still in place, including some older, bronze works that he had done long before the large mobiles. I remember seeing an unfinished wind sculpture and it made me sad. But it made me very, very happy to be outside, shooting fashion models in this fantastical setting, with giant cranes, windmills and the like whirling and swinging silently above us in the breeze. Magical! I still have those pictures around here somewhere -- I'll have to dig them out and show you sometime.
That said, the photos in today's post really don't do justice to these beautiful pieces. It's so much better when we have that blue Colorado sky! They are gorgeous. I will someday go back and take better pictures, so you can see exactly how magical it all is.
In this photo, you can see one of the sculptures lying on the ground in the foreground at far right. I don't know if it blew over or it's one of the pieces that the Kempfs were forced to dismantle. Probably the latter, since it doesn't look damaged. If that's the case, it's probably been lying there for years. This is the first time I've noticed it, however.