The Phantom of Park City
By Christopher Smart
First, there is a mountain / then, there is no mountain / then, there is ...
It might be an old Donovan tune rolling around your brain as you cruise Park City in the green of first summer, clouds embracing the mountain tops, then letting them go.
The sun breaks through the white-gray mist and then glints off a shinny object and wow, there it is: Sitting atop a landscaped knoll, a steel sculpture appeared over night. It wasn't there yesterday, was it?
First, there is a sculpture / then, there is no sculpture / then, there is ...
Somewhere between junk and stylish avant garde, it could be a modernization of a sun dial. On closer inspection, it appears like the blades from an old lawnmower welded between angle iron. Another look makes it what you want it to be: mountain peaks and wind-blown snow. Or, who knows?
But better appreciate it now, because it could be gone tomorrow It's there for the stealing. It's the work of Bill Kranstover. Known in Park City simply as Kranny, his modern, steel and iron welded sculptures are not commissioned but could turn up just about anywhere in town. They are public art, donated by the sculpting Phantom of Park City.
Kranny, er ... that is, the Phantom, judges his work by how fast it disappears. "I try to put them in places where people wouldn't expect to see sculpture. People go by and say, 'Hey, that wasn't there yesterday.' And then the critics come out. The better pieces are gone in a couple of days or a couple of weeks," he says.
The latest chapter in Kranny's life as the artist started about five years ago when the Park City Council decided that all public art would have to be approved by the town's Historic District Commission and Planning Commission. To this Kranny said, "Bullshit."
"Brad Olch [Park City's mayor] came in the other day and said, 'Kran, you've been putting up some art.' I said, 'What are you talking about? I haven't been putting up any art.'"
Kranny thinks the mayor actually digs his sculptures turning up around town without all the haggle of approval by various commissions. And the artist finds the notion rebellious: "I think it would be kind of cool to get thrown in jail for putting up works of art," he says with a smile.
He pays the bills by operating a real-estate appraisal business in Park City. Before that, Kranny sold real estate. And way back when, he waited tables and opened a penny arcade after coming to Park City in the early '70s.
His regular job frees him up, artistically, he says. "I got into real estate because it gives me the most amount of time to do sculpting. So, I don't have to go out and have people tell me they want a sculpture of a deer or something."
That's the sort of thing that can kill creativity, Kranny says. "I saw too many of my friends in a situation where they had to do that in order to pay the mortgage."
Kranny was thrown into art in high school in West Bend, Wis. "It was just part of the curriculum," he explains. "I started with painting and then collage. It was becoming more and more 3-D. At some point, I thought, why not just go full 3-D and not hang it on a wall."
Now Kranny and his sculpting partner, Michael Begay, comb junk yards and old mining sites looking for material that calls to them to create shapes, designs and something they call, "negative space."
Maneuvering heavy pieces of steel, old iron cogs and wheels from the mines and other heavy junk and then welding them in unconventional ways is no easy task. "Michael Begay has helped me with a lot of this stuff and needs to be recognized," Kranny says. "First of all, I said, 'Hey, can you help me out. One guy can't hold this stuff and weld it.' Eventually, Michael started saying, 'Hey, maybe that piece should go over here.' So, we began to collaborate creatively."
A dozen or more of their sculptures are spread around town at any given time, including one in front of City Hall actually commissioned by the City Council. Another 15 or so grace the "Rail Trail" bicycle path along the old Union Pacific route between Park City and Coalville. "Eventually, we intend to go all the way to Coalville," Kranny says. "It's a 25-mile public park and sculpture garden," he explains with a touch of irony.
Kranny encourages others to take part in this guerrilla public art. And, in fact, he was one of the founders of "Who's Art?," a Park City-based organization of artists who get together to show their creations for no commercial purpose.
And that pretty much sums up where Kranny is coming from when it comes to art: "I don't get paid a lot of money for what I do. But I get the satisfaction of putting it up. I'd rather do it, than talk about it."
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