Denverite reader Jan asked us about a fantastical sculpture called “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” in Washington Park. She wanted to know the story behind it and where people can find other outdoor art.
Great question, Jan! And let me just humbly thank you for asking something that we can answer relatively simply during the crush of the holidays.
The “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” sculpture depicts a scene from the 1889 poem, “Dutch Lullaby” by author Eugene Field, a one-time Denverite. Wynken, Blynken and Nod are three children fishing at nighttime in the open sea… in a wooden, floating shoe. No need to call the child welfare hotline — this is a dream-like fairytale poem, not nonfiction.
The sculpture just had its 100th birthday. Colorado artist Mabel Landrum Torrey forged the piece from marble, concrete and stone in 1919 after Mayor Robert Speer commissioned it, according to a history book of the area called “Denver’s Washington Park.”
“Wynken, Blynken and Nod” used to be part of a fountain surrounded by a pool of water, but it was renovated in the 1980s and moved to a site, sans fountain, near Field’s cottage, which is also in Wash Park.
It’s really easy to find where Denver’s public art lives and the specifics of each piece.
Visit DenverPublicArt.org to view a map.
The search function is really helpful because it lets you find art near you or in a certain neighborhood — even at DIA where you can stare at this art that looks like industrial litter. You can also toggle between public art and the Urban Arts Fund, which comprises pieces that are more likely to be murals or new media artwork, not commissioned pieces. And if you want to view solely murals or solely sculptures, for instance, you can do that too.
Wynken, Blynken and Nod came about long before Denver had a codified process for public art.
The city has more than 400 pieces of public art, according to Denver Arts and Venues. But it wasn’t always that way.
Since the ’80s, any capital project worth over $1 million has to set aside 1 percent of the cost for public art, says Amber Fochi with Denver Arts and Venues. The city arts department also gives out grants for projects, including murals like the ones you see on the Cherry Creek Trail. Panels made up of Denverites choose what goes where.