Dan Belt is a rational man. He picks up on community issues quickly. If one of those issues is presented to him, he will jump on it. That's according to local artist Bill Tetzel, who is 50 percent responsible for the public art display of vultures located on top of Belt Salvage.
The idea to beautify Cortez with public art was Tetzel's idea. A way to spark interest in the community from people who come through town. The large, bizarre display of birds scavenging has already garnered the community's attention. Best of all, passersby are taking notice as well.
"I wasn't too keen on the idea," Belt said, about Tetzel's public art idea. "But the more we talked the more I liked it."
In the week after the installation was placed on the roof of his business, Belt said three people who were driving down Highway 491, stopped to inquire about the artwork. In Belt's opinion, it isn't really the beauty that is eye catching, but the uniqueness of the display. One might even call it strange. An oddity spawned from the mind of Tetzel, who has been a customer of Belt's for years. He is often seen coming in to the scrap yard and digging through one person's junk in hopes of finding a treasure to use in his next endeavor.
"We get along well. I go in and we talk politics, but he (Belt) can't figure me out," Tetzel says, chuckling.
The idea of a public art display at the corner of Highway 491 and Road G, steadily grew in Tetzel's mind. The more he drove through that intersection, the more he was determined to do something about it.
Before moving to Cortez 12 years ago, Tetzel lived in Santa Fe, N.M. There, as an employee for the state, he helped design and implement an economic development plan for New Mexico. Once he moved to McElmo Canyon, the constant drab and dreary feel of that industrialized intersection was too much to bear any longer. Not a stranger to beautification projects, he jumped at the chance to be part of a solution. He saw the salvage yard as a perfect place to start.
"Belt Salvage may look like the ugliest place on the block but it's not - it's interesting," Tetzel says. "It needed something quirky."
Quirky is a good way to describe the art.
He recruited fellow artist Rose Russell to help draw up the idea for the art display. The two artists have often discussed their love of the area. Both were equally dismayed at lack of aesthetic appeal in the town's entryways, the obvious place for a first impression. They were also intent on creating a buzz about public art.
"Dan (Belt) is a true community advocate," Russell says. "We all share the same desire to enrich the community and because of that he was the perfect example of starting where you are with what's available to you."
Quirky is one thing, but why vultures? It's a simple answer. Belt has long used vultures as the art for his business cards. The looming, leering bird has always been a fixation for Belt.
"I've applied the idea of a vulture to my business," Belt explains. "Because we are like a vulture in the sense that we are waiting for things to break down and buy, like the birds are waiting around for things to die so they can eat."
Tetzel and Russell feasted on the idea. She drew a small-scale design of vulture displays and individual birds to present to Belt and his sons. The visualization of buzzards on the roof of his building floored Belt. He loved the idea. Especially since he envisions his business as a vulture's next of kin.
They tweaked a few more details and got to work. Belt volunteered materials from his scrap yard - a natural place to begin - such as sheet steel and various sizes of steel pipe. A few of the materials, for detail purposes, were also purchased.
"Playing off the idea of the vulture was great," Russell says. "By incorporating the junk yard materials we repurposed those things and gave it a new life. It sort of highlights the idea of reusing things. As with vultures, who don't let anything go to waste."
The pieces came together quickly. After a month of plasma cutting and welding, the artists were left with eight five-to-six foot birds. The entire display took about four hours to attach to the building. Five pieces were individually placed on two sets of branch pieces. One of the branches holds two birds and occupies the corner of the building. The other holds three birds and is under debate on where it will be located.
There is also an old car, turned upside-down, that the artists pulled from the heap. Two large birds sit on the car, ripping away at scraps like a real vulture enjoying dinner. Russell says there was a lot of elbow grease that went into that peculiar installation.
"We had to take weight off of it (the car) so we torched the undercarriage and chunks of the frame to make it as light as possible and structurally sound. We also added some lights and chrome to make it really stand out," she explained.
The largest bird of all stands about six-feet tall, with a wingspan of 10 feet. The bird is strategically placed on a branch piece at the corner of the roof, menacingly gazing at the ground. This particular piece is probably the most life-like. Belt is extremely proud of the winged bird because he knows this is a very natural posture for a buzzard.
"When vultures get up in the morning they spread their wings to warm them before they can fly," Belt says. "It's a pretty intimidating look, like they may swoop down at any second."
The five vultures perched atop the tin-sided building look, amazingly, right at home.
Russell and Tetzel are hoping their installation will be the start to Cortez becoming a culturally thriving and sought after community. The beginning stages of their idea may have been birthed by the world's most misunderstood scavenger - the salvage yard - but amid the rubble of defunct metal, these artists found true inspiration.
In a sheet of scrap they saw life.
In a rustic pipe they found hope.
And from junk they created art.