For two years, a 10-foot sculpture has towered, bronze and inscrutable, among pickup trucks and sedans in a Broadway parking lot in downtown Denver.
Known as The Mountain Man, the out-of-place art has a few notable features: It's a replica of a Frederic Remington. It features a buckskin-clad horseman descending a steep slope. And he's got a gun.
Or rather, he had a gun.
Sometime around 10 p.m. on Jan. 25, "unknown suspect(s) climbed onto a statue and took the rifle off the statue and fled in an unknown direction by unknown means," according to a very short police report.
Now, the police have exhausted every lead in a caper of hefty proportions and little consequence. And it's only the latest twist in the story that brought an enormous — and now unarmed — frontier rider to this particular piece of pavement.
"I'm completely clueless why somebody would want a piece of metal that looks like a gun," said Philip Schneidau, a real estate executive for Woodbranch Management and the involuntary curator of the parking-lot sculpture. He's been dealing with the Remington replica for a few years now, ever since one of his company's owners bought the piece.
"One of the owners saw this statue — not me. He liked it a lot, and bought it. And then, once he got it, it's not something you can put in your living room, or even in your backyard, unless you have one hell of a backyard — meaning huge," Schneidau previously told this reporter.
The sculpture is one of Remington's best-known pieces, a 1903 work said to show an Iroquois trapper navigating the Rockies in the 1830s. A much smaller version stands in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and another of the early casts sold at Christie's for $146,500.
"Man and horse work together to make the trip on the treacherously rocky decline," is how the Met describes its sculpture. "His face is calm and determined, as if only an extreme degree of concentration will allow him to accomplish the descent without mishap."
The Denver parking-lot version, interestingly, is more than 10 times the size of the older statuettes.
Finding it too big for the owner's home, Schneidau and company searched for space in their real estate portfolio. First, they thought about putting Mountain Man on one of their New York properties. Somehow, that didn't seem appropriate. So instead, they chose the company's parking lot in Denver.
Sure, it's a parking lot, Schneidau acknowledged — but it's a parking lot out West. One of the sculpture's cousins, The Cheyenne, is even on display at the Denver Art Museum . So they cordoned off a parking spot, struggled through the city's permitting process, and parked the sculpture in 2017.
It has become a landmark since then for countless passers-by.
"I live downtown and walk my dog by there every day," one man wrote in an email to The Denver Post. He's a "huge fan" of Remington, he said — and he noticed this month that the sculpture was missing its gun.
Schneidau was well aware of the theft when a reporter contacted him. "It's a rifle caper," he said.
And it looks like the thieves got away with it.
"We don't have no idea. That's the mystery part," said Abdi Jabril, a manager for the parking-lot company. "There's no cameras" that captured the theft. An employee of the nearby Avis Car Rental said his office didn't witness the crime, either.
The Denver Police Department sent a detective to investigate the "criminal mischief" case but found few clues, except for a report that two men removed the rifle, according to spokesperson Doug Schepman. Anyone with more information can call Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.
Schneidau figures that it was a tempting target, so anachronistic and isolated in the modern city. When the statue's owner learned of the theft, he let out "a few appropriate curse words," Schneidau recalled, and then declared, "We're not going to go back to the foundry."
Reproducing the rifle could cost $5,000, he guessed. Instead, they'll leave the Mountain Man unarmed: He's a pacifist now.
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