As repairs on the aging Arkansas River levee move ahead, heavy equipment will cut through the image of a corn maiden, along with scores of other paintings that cover the 2.8-mile long levee.
Construction workers are taking extra care as they remove the corn maiden, and dozens of people gathered Thursday afternoon to say goodbye to this piece of local history. Poets, drummers and a woman dressed in a ceremonial mask were among those watching the work from across the river.
The Corn Maiden was done in the mid-1990s to honor the late Pueblo artist, Judith Pierce, whose ashes are mixed into the paint used to create the image. Local artist Cynthia Ramu oversees the levee mural, and painted this and many other sections.
Ramu says the Corn Maiden represents the earth mother. "Of all the pieces, to me it's been the guardian, the protector, and the spirit of the levee," she says.
The contractors are using special tools and covering the extra expense to remove the 20-ton concrete panel that features the Corn Maiden's head, likely next week.
"They're trying to be very gentle with it," says Ramu. "They're going to load it out as gently as they can. It could break in half."
If this panel makes it without crumbling, it will be temporarily storied near the construction staging area. But it needs to be moved before the next phase of work starts.
"And then the trick will be who's going to move it?" asks Ramu. "Who's going to pay to move it and then where's it going to go?"
Ramu sees rescuing this part of the Corn Maiden painting as an experiment that will show what needs to be done to preserve other important parts of the mural. The rest of the concrete taken from the levee is crushed and used as roadbase.
Removal of the levee's bottom panels, along with the murals painted on them, will begin next winter.