Archive for Sunday, October 9, 1994


October 9, 1994


A successful artist and Lawrence native dedicates his sculpture to the spirit of the city.

A myriad of Lawrence residents had to look toward the sky Saturday afternoon to see a sculpture that will represent Lawrence to the visitors who drive into town from the Kansas Turnpike.

And that's exactly what it's creator, Doug Coffin, wanted.

The Lawrence native remembers his father looking to the sky every morning to guess the weather.

"That's the trick in Kansas," Coffin said. "What's the weather going to do?"

So when he designed the sculpture, a 26-foot, 4-inch-tall steel totem pole, he placed the main elements at the top.

"The way you have to look at it, the skies are always the background," he said.

About 35 people -- past professors, old school friends, members of the art community and city commissioners -- assembled at the turnaround point on McDonald Drive, just north of the Sixth Street overpass, for the dedication of Coffin's work, "Kansas Skies Totem."

Dressed in a casual black suit and black-and-red cowboy boots, Coffin told the audience he wanted the piece to represent the strongest elements of Lawrence. A blue crescent moon and crimson triangle represent Kansas University, Coffin's alma mater.

Haskell Indian Nations University can be seen in the gold sun and six purple cylinders. Another of Coffin's works is displayed near Haskell's Coffin Sports Complex, which is named after his father.

Mayor Jo Andersen said the sculpture displayed essential characteristics of Lawrence, which she said was an artistic community influenced by its Native American heritage.

"The totem describes what has always been our heritage," she said. "At the same time, it enriches and continues what will be our heritage."

The $10,000 sculpture was bought by the city through the "Two Percent for Art" program, which allows the city to spend the equivalent of two percent of capital improvement budgets on art for public places.

Stan Herd, a successful crop artist who has released a book on his art, said the work of Coffin and other contemporary Native American artists in the area was transforming Lawrence into a central point of the Native American art world.

"The contemporary Native American artists are giving us a new sensitivity that has evaded us as a larger culture," he said.

Out of his studio in Abiquiu, N.M., Coffin has created pieces for Robert Redford and Martina Navratilova.

Dan Reeder, chairman of the Lawrence Arts Commission, said the pole had a second layer of meaning because Coffin was a rising national artist who also was a Lawrence native.

"There's nice closure. Someone has gone out and then come back in," he said. "Not only is (the totem pole) esthetically pleasing, but it's also poetic in its origin."

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