Pioneer Profiles: Starr Kempf
You may have wondered about the interesting giant steel sculpture in front of the parking garage in central downtown Colorado Springs. It’s a clock! Since it’s only the hands, you may need to take a second look. The creator of that clock was one of the more interesting characters of Colorado Springs history.
Starr Kempf, a pioneer of unique artistry, began sculpting in 1955, but what makes his work pioneering isn’t the bronze he worked with, nor was it any of the work he did in college—it is his work in kinetic sculpture, which he started designing in 1977 from steel. Kempf created dozens of birds, weathervanes, and other sculptures that took advantage of the wind that powers their beautiful movement. Some of them even triggered music when they moved. He put up most of them in his yard at the mouth of Cheyenne Canyon.
Many of Kempf’s structures towered between 30-50 feet tall, so they attracted attention, and soon wind wasn’t the only thing moving through the neighborhood behind the Broadmoor Hotel where he lived. Traffic began lining up to view the spectacular artwork, which caused a logjam of tourists in the narrow nearby streets. Naturally this spurred some unrest among the neighbors of this quiet community.
After his death in 1995, Kempf’s daughter tried to turn the house and art studio into a museum, which made the traffic problem worse. Neighbors, tired of having their driveways blocked, took the Kempf estate to court and eventually shut down the enterprise after much litigation. The family was asked to remove most of the artwork, so they put it into storage.
Fortunately, in recent months a new home has been found for some of the sculptures near the new Ent Center for the Arts, found on Nevada Avenue just north of Austin Bluffs Parkway.
Although Starr Kempf led a tumultuous and dramatic life that was marred by alcoholism and bouts of angry tantrums, it’s his passion for kinetic sculpture that made a lasting impression on the city’s history. Thankfully, Kempf’s work has been brought out of storage and into the open where it can be appreciated and admired.