The dark humor of Dave Sipe’s roadside sculptures

by Jessie O’Brien

Walk into folk artist Dave Sipe’s art museum and you’ll find that wild, bulbous eyes and wide, crooked smiles surround you on all sides, as does the prominent smell of fresh-cut wood.

Sipe has been carving these oddball figures with a chainsaw for the past 35 years. His large property sits right off U.S. Highway 160 between Mesa Verde and Mancos. You can’t miss the massive grinning sculptures beckoning – or perhaps daring – you to come inside.

Sipe lets the wood dictate the forms of these lighthearted figures, which means they are not anatomically correct, but take on a life of their own. It gives the pieces that are too happy – too harmless – a Ren and Stimpy strangeness.

We were suspicious of these strange, roadside artworks, which were unlike anything we’d ever seen, and figured out of the hundreds of figures, at least one had to be possessed. Maybe the Dudley Do-Right was carved from some ancient, mystical oak and an evil soul is trapped in the prison of its bark. Maybe multiple owners of a Santa Grinch died mysteriously in freak accidents.

Unfortunately, the scariest story that Dave’s partner, Nancy Segel, could think of was when a woman in her late-20s purchased a little bear with a check that later bounced. Segel followed up with her multiple times, but the woman stiffed them. Five years later, they received the money in the mail from her parents to pay for the bear.

“I think the piece was possessed and made them feel like they had to pay up,” Segel said.

Maybe the bear would move from shelf to shelf in the middle of the night. Maybe anyone who made eye contact with the bear went blind. Maybe Nancy was just trying to help us with this story.

So, we didn’t find any murderous voodoo sculptures, likely because – despite our wariness of his wooden works of art – Sipe likes to keep things light.

“A certain amount of artist’s life is giving yourself art therapy, so I think you’re all around better off if you make happier work,” he said.

He does, however, imbue some of his pieces with dark humor. We went on a tour of his property to find the rascals of the bunch. Here are some of our favorites.

Text and photos by Jessie O’Brien


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