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Surls Museum It Is


A museum for the sculpture of artist James Surls has been approved for Carbondale’s old library building.  Last night the Carbondale Town Council voted to convert the Gordon Cooper Library building into a museum and gallery.  Aspen Public Radio’s Roger Adams reports.

Carbondale’s Board of Trustees had two popular and worthy proposals to choose from.  Should they turn the soon to be vacant Gordon Cooper Library into a Family Enrichment center to provide day care for young children or would the town be best served by a museum for a world renowned sculptor.   In a six to one vote the board approved the museum, which is backed by philanthropist Jim Calaway.


“I’m very happy because I think the Surls museum will be a great thing for this community that we all love.”


Three years ago Calaway, a life-long friend of the artist James Surls, formed a small group he calls Team Surls.  Their idea was to build a place to house Surls sculpture and make Carbondale a destination for art tourists.  When the town announced it was looking for a way to repurpose the library Team Surls was ready with a plan.  Sue Edelstein sits on the Carbondale Public Arts Commission and was an early member of Team Surls.

"A great thing for this community that we all love."


“Art tourism becomes bigger and bigger in the world each year. It’s a double draw in this case because  you have a beautiful location as well as the high quality art.”


And, says Edelstein, Carbondale will be home to the only Surls museum in the world.  His large public sculptures are in cities around the world; in New York, for example, there are six Surls sculptures on Park Avenue.


Surls lives and has his studio in Missouri Heights.  In addition to housing much of his own collection the museum promises to be an educational space for young artists and a gallery of other artists work curated by Surls himself.  The museum, says Edelstein, would recognize Surls’ Carbondale connection.

Credit Roger Adams
"Team Surls" members; Sue Edelstein (L) and Bill Spence


“He’s a nationally and internationally respected sculptor who has a love for this valley and lives here and cares about the town of Carbondale.  He’s a local.”


The plan calls for Jim Calaway to raise about one million dollars to add on to the Gordon Cooper building; creating space for Surls larger work.  He told the town council the museum would occupy the building for at least twenty years.  The library will move to its new location down 4th street later this year.


Reaction to last night’s vote was not so cheerful for backers of the Family Enrichment Center proposal.  Trustees, clearly wrestling with a difficult decision discussed postponing the vote to allow for ideas on how to support both proposals.  In the end, only Trustee Pam Zentmeyer voted for the child care idea.  Like Team Surls, Francis Lewis and Kathryn Camp spent years developing their idea for a center that would help young families with child care and after school care.  Lewis and Camp said they aren’t sure what they will do next.  Lewis says it might be driven by reaction to last night’s vote.


“I think a lot depends on how the community is going to react to this honestly.  How we move forward and what we do really depends on all these people who’ve rallied behind us.”


There is no firm timetable for when a James Surls museum will open.  Jim Calaway says architects will now finalize the design and he will begin raising money for construction immediately. 




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