Nederland artist convenes ‘Council of Kindness‘

If you go

What: Open house for Council of Kindness

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: 20 Lakeview Drive, Unit 108, Nederland

More info:

The Council of Kindness is searching for a home.

No, that‘s not a New Age take on the United Nations, or the latest twist on restorative justice.

It‘s a very non-threatening grey wolf, a gangly giraffe, a rhinoceros, a bear, a donkey and a dolphin, which has its own bubbling water feature, hanging out on a bench, just waiting for people to come relax with them and take some quiet time for themselves.

From the mind and hands of Vietnam veteran Scott Harrison — the same man who brought Nederland and many admirers far beyond the mountain town the perennially popular — the Council of Kindness is intended as a refuge, a safe space featuring a half-dozen colorfully hand-carved animals. They are arrayed across a 14-foot-diameter semi-circled and cushioned bench with space in the middle so visitors can sit among the unusual menagerie.

On a circular wire suspended above the bench are 74 white birds. Harrison said they reflect some indigenous cultures‘ belief that birds can carry people‘s thoughts or prayers where they‘re intended to go.

For now, the council is assembled in a rented storefront in downtown Nederland, just a few doors down from the Carousel of Happiness. The restored 1910 carousel features 56 animals and figurines hand-carved by Harrison, a realization of a vision that came to Harrison while serving as a Marine in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.

“A couple of things kind of came together about four to five years ago,” Harrison said Tuesday. “I was working with — not as a therapist — but working with veterans on PTSD issues, including myself. We had group meetings, writing workshops on war issues and that sort of thing, and also the carousel was in full swing.

“And we were noticing that a lot of people were coming (to the carousel) but not necessarily with kids, and not necessarily to ride, but just to sit and watch and to kind of get imbued with the joy of what was going on.”

It occurred to Harrison that there were a lot of people in the community suffering trauma who might want a space for reflection absent the usual sounds and crowds of Nederland‘s carousel.

“A lot of people are far from obtaining joy. At some point in their life, a lot of people are just trying to hang on, with the trauma they have had, whether it is war or rape or abuse or just their own daily life,” said Harrison, 70, who lives just outside Nederland.

“Sometimes, it‘s just giving them a place to sit, and have a quiet time. And so I designed this just for that.”

Most of the wood for the project — basswood, red oak, white oak, cherry, walnut and maple — was given to Harrison by Carousel of Happiness fan Russ Karasch, owner of the Squarrel Square Barrels cooperage of Osage, Minn., and producer of barrels for distillers of wine, whiskey and beer.

“In my opinion, Scott‘s the hero here, and he deserves all the credit,” Karasch said. “My feelings are that I was lucky and blessed to get to know Scott. All I can say is, if there were more people like Scott in this world, we‘d have a much better world.”

‘A meditative space‘

The most pressing question now is where the Council of Kindness will come to rest. Harrison is not selling it. He‘s giving it away, and also has some ideas as to where it could land, ranging from under a dome in the woods to an indoor space in downtown Denver where perhaps homeless people could seek sanctuary, booking it for free, for an hour at a time.

It would need about 20 by 20 feet of display space. He hopes it would be convenient to a Regional Transportation District stop, and a bottom-line requirement for him is that it be wheelchair accessible.

“I don‘t know where it‘s going to end up,” he said. “I‘d like a place where somebody could come by themselves. They could also come with a therapist or a friend. There are other places to sit on this bench, with the animals. But I designed it for one person to come and just be able to reflect in a quiet environment — and yet have company.”

While it was in progress, the six animals — a couple of them weighing up to 200 pounds each — were housed in temporary quarters around town. The rhinoceros sat for quite a while right outside the office of Susan Schneider, banking center manager of Citywide Banks in Nederland.

“On one hand, it would be wonderful to keep it in our own community where people are very familiar with Scott,” Schneider said. “On the other hand, it has enough value that it should be accessible for more people

“It‘s not meant to be a playground for children. It is a meditative space,” she added. “It would be amazing if it could be in anything from a cancer center at Children‘s Hospital to, I even mentioned the idea of the Denver airport. When you look a volume of people who go through there, they are frequently traveling under times of stress and they have to go somewhere to deal with it.”

‘Quiet company and counsel‘

Harrison has put about $15,000 of his own money into the project, and is looking to recover that investment. Toward that end, people can make donations through the . Or, they also can do so through the . By making contributions that way, people‘s donations are tax deductible, with the alliance keeping 5 percent of the donated amount.

“As the fiscal sponsor for the Council of Kindness and other projects, we are primarily concerned with an artist‘s fiscal responsibility and ability to manage projects,” Alliance Executive Director Charlotte LaSasso said in an email. “We need to make sure that if people are contributing to a project, the money is being used appropriately for its intended purpose. There really was no question with this project and Scott‘s application was easily approved.”

LaSasso added, “We‘ve been following Scott‘s work for a number of years, beginning with the Carousel of Happiness. The scale of his projects is truly impressive. And while we encourage artists to pay themselves for the work they do, Scott‘s determination to contribute his time and considerable talent to make these offerings to the community is inspiring.”

Each of the animals in the Council of Kindness has a backstory, such as the wolf having been the spirit animal of a Wisconsin man who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; a box built into its body holds poems and other things special to him. Similarly, the bear contains clothes and other artifacts of Nederland resident Brandon “Bear” Bryk, who drowned in the riptides of an oncoming hurricane on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in October 2016.

An open house is set for Sunday afternoon at the Nederland storefront where the council is temporarily convened. But Harrison looks forward to his animals finding their next habitat. He thinks it is conceivable they could go to one home for a few years, then possibly relocate.

“I call it the Council of Kindness, because these guys are just offering you their quiet company and counsel to keep you company, while you‘re working out issues or decompressing, whatever,” Harrison said.

“Another way to put it is, we all have distractions, the little phone in your pocket, and there‘s distractions everywhere, and there‘s anger everywhere and there‘s cynicism everywhere. Hopefully, this is a place that people could come to kind of get themselves together, breathe or meditate.

“That‘s the sole purpose of this.”