Playwright Jim Jackson called it a farce — and although he was talking about his new play, “Art Dog” at his Manitou Art Theatre, he might as easily been talking about the incident that inspired it.
In the fall of 2006, a sculpture of a Great Dane rolling joyfully on his back stirred controversy in Manitou Springs and was removed only hours after being installed on the street. The problem: The life-size bronze — called “Dog Days” — was anatomically correct and many locals felt it was inappropriate to display canine testicles in public.
Critics were rather vocal.
“They were getting upset about his body,” said Jackson, who is also co-owner of the Manitou Art Theatre and a professional clown named Art Guffaw. “And when you come down to it, it was the fact he had a penis.”
At the time, Jackson was the president of Manitou Springs’ arts commission. The sculpture, which was modeled after artist Louise Peterson’s neutered male (“testicles just really added to the piece” she said), was eventually relocated to the Manitou Art Theatre).
“It was in a corner, covered with a sheet,” said Birgitta DePree, co-owner of the theater, director and actress. “People would come in and whisper, ‘Can I just take a peek?’ ”
Jackson emphasized that “Art Dog” is very loosely based on the Manitou Springs story.
“It’s so fictionalized that we changed the dog from a Great Dane to a poodle,” he said, a silent “bah dump dum” hanging in the air.
The political and aesthetic saga aside, “Art Dog” also raises pivotal cultural questions. What is censorship? Or for that matter, what is art, and who should have the final word on what finds its way into public settings?
“It’s a wonderful conversation, a dangerous conversation, a messy conversation,” said DePree, who appears in the play. “But it’s a conversation that’s worth having.”
Sculptor Peterson is still bemused about the issue, which dragged on for more than a year. The good news: Her “Bella and the Bug,” which was installed near the Uncle Wilber fountain, escaped such controversy. (Female dogs apparently aren’t so shocking.)
“The story went nationwide,” she added in a neat British accent, “and I got nationwide exposure. So it really wasn’t such a bad thing.”
And yes, she said, she’ll definitely attend the show. “I think that’s fabulous. I’ll have to go see it.”
Warren Epstein contributed to this story.