A Gondola Car as Art

On a snowy Saturday morning (with lots more of the wonderful white stuff to come, but that's a different story), a one-of-a-kind 'wrapped' gondola car lifted into service on Bald Mountain. The car, a moveable art piece, was the vision of favorite local artist Ralph Harris and was made possible by many dedicated people and organizations.

Cheers went up among the crowd as Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas cut the ceremonial ribbon and boarded the car with other dignitaries, including Trish Wilson of Wilson Construction, LLC, that sponsored the car, to enjoy the first ride up to Roundhouse.

Local dignitaries who helped make the gondola art possible gathered Saturday morning to add the car to the fleet. They are from left: Jack Sibbach, Kurt Nelson, Claudia McCain, Ralph Harris, Mayor Nina Jonas and Trish Wilson

The 'art car' is believed to be the only wrapped gondola car to fly over Forest Service land in the country and it took a concerted effort among many to make it possible. In fact, on Saturday morning, comments emphasized the excellent partnership among the Ketchum Parks & Recreation Department, The City of Ketchum Arts Commission, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and Sun Valley Resort that brought this project to fruition.

The goal of the 'art car' was to create something to blend in with our gorgeous, natural mountain environment, to enhance it, not to stand out. Kurt Nelson of the Bureau of Land Management joked numerous times, that the one thing that would never be found on Bald Mountain is a gondola covered in 'street art' -- or pink or orange or advertising for that matter!

The vinyl "wrap" depicts scenes from the nearby Boulder Mountains as envisioned by Harris. This summer, when the car was first unveiled in Ketchum's Town Square, Harris explained his process. "I created the art digitally and it was transferred onto a nylon wrap that covers the entire gondola car," Harris explained. "It's the same type of material that you see in town adorning our local buses. You can see through it from the inside."

Artist Ralph Harris poses with the first gondola art car to fly over public land

Art is a vital component of what defines the Sun Valley lifestyle and bringing it to Baldy is a very visible reminder of that.

"Showcasing original art on Baldy highlights the value this community places on arts and culture, as well as outdoor recreation," Sun Valley's Director of Marketing Jack Sibbach said. "We are excited to share the work of a local artist in such a unique and visible way."

The project was spearheaded by the Ketchum Arts Commission. Claudia McCain, chair of the arts commission, emphasized the importance of the collaboration of all the groups involved and the generosity of the Wilsons. "This community is fortunate to have civic- minded residents like the Wilsons who recognize the value of the arts and are dedicated to giving back locally."

"This is a very special project to me," Mayor Nina Jonas added. "Ralph Harris and my father are longtime friends, and I have known Ralph since I was a child. This collaboration shows the love of nature and of art that unites this community. I thank all of those who worked together to make it happen."

Some of those who made the art car possible were treated to the first ride up to Roundhouse as the snow began to fall

Harris, who can claim 44 years as a ski instructor with the Sun Valley SnowSports School and whose ancestors in the region date back to 1881, was an obvious choice to create the special art. In fact, his Uncle Zeb worked on the first ski lift. Harris has been an illustrator for skiing magazines and the U.S. Ski Team, and has created posters for the anniversaries of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Ketchum's annual Wagon Days celebration. He has worked as a Sun Valley ski instructor for approximately 40 years. Additional information about the artist is available at www.ralphharris.net.

When you are out enjoying all this amazing new snow (yay!) by skiing or snowboarding, perhaps you will be fortunate and get to ride on the gondola art car. The view from the inside is as pretty as from the outside!

Let it snow, happy holidays and long live public art!


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