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On the stump: in an artistic, not political, way


Roadrunner, bear, puzzle piece, peace symbol, flower and 45 other surprises are hanging out on stumps along the Tierra Verde neighborhood main drag on the edge of Mesilla.

The 50 small metal sculptures are the brainchildren of area artist Ron Saltzman, former owner of the Frame and Art Gallery, and retired teacher Teresa Phillips. T\In the midst of the pandemic, they have focused on the positive, and given the community something to explore.

Saltzman said he had been thinking about the project for a long time.

“We tried to do it anonymously,” he said. “The first batch was 32 pieces. We got up in the middle of the night, met down here and at 1:30 in the morning we had the 32 placed. We thought someone would call the police on us, but nobody did.”

Saltzman and Phillips thought they would just sit back and listen to see if people noticed the next day. But by 6:30 a.m. when he went to see what the area looked like in daylight, there were already walkers, runners and friends wondering what happened.

As the president of Tierra Verde Landscaping, Saltzman is in charge of the team that takes care of the main drag, and people started approaching him.

“They came up and said, ‘something happened last night, who did it?’” he said. “I kept a straight face with the first guy, but I have a hard time lying, and by 10 o’clock in the morning, I couldn’t lie anymore.”

Saltzman said the city periodically plants new trees and just leaves the stumps of the old ones, because it is too hard and too expensive to grind them to ground level. So he turned them into sculpture bases.

“Now, you really don’t see the stumps. You see the artwork on things,” he said.

Phillips and Saltzman worked for about a month creating the sculptures with his plasma cutter and a welder.

“We would design them,” he said. “Some I helped and tweaked, some I did by myself, and same with her. She is super creative. Her way of thinking is very analytical, and she can look at something and see things in it that I would have glossed over. As we were creating these things, she would find meaning that I never saw before.”

Saltzman describes the works as whimsical, animals or just something fun. Two of the pieces are interactive: an envelope in which the investigator can find inspiring works and a bell that children often take advantage of to make some joyful noise.

“Families come out here and turn it into a scavenger hunt,” he said. “We’re just bringing in a little bit of happy with all the negativity that is going on in the world. I wanted to have a good feeling coming off of it. You see these things and you get a smile. I’m enjoying it, it gave me a lot of pleasure making it and doing it and seeing the smiles.”

Elva K. Österreich may be reached at elva@lascrucesbulletin.com.