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Pieces of NGS Grace Page Sports Complex as Public Art Memorial

Pieces of NGS Grace Page Sports Complex as Public Art Memorial
April 14
16:57 2021

Pieces of NGS Grace Page Sports Complex as Public Art Memorial

By George Hardeen

Bench with stacks

PAGE – As the massive Navajo Generating Station is slowly reduced to mountains of metal for recycling, a few pieces of it were saved and turned into a lasting memorial of public art.

Visitors entering the Page Sports Complex now walk past two unusual benches made of materials from the power plant and the Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad that delivered 24,000 tons of coal each day. 

The benches each rest on four railroad ties. Steel wheels from the train’s coal cars support them. On each wheel, blended into the artistry of welding by its Navajo creators is the familiar motif borrowed from a Navajo wedding basket. 

Rising from the back of one bench are the now-gone iconic smokestacks once known to the employees of NGS as the “Three Sisters.” Seated on the deck of the other bench is “Spring Man” on his lunch break.

The visionary creators of the benches are Keno Zahney and Maretta Begay, both who worked in the NGS Railroad & Heavy Equipment Department during their final months at NGS. Their special assignment was to design and build the benches. 

Keno Zahney and Maretta Begay

NGS Maintenance Manager Shayne Jones said when it was announced in February 2017 that NGS would close, he thought the town should have something to remember NGS was here – other than Page Attacks Trash and the PERA Club.

“We should do something to memorialize NGS,” he said. “You look around town and there was really nothing that signified that NGS had been there.”

So Jones sent an email to NGS employees asking them for ideas. 

“Hey, I know there’s some great artists out there and others that have some great concepts,” he said. “Put your thinking caps on.”

He said Jarvison Littlesunday, O&M 4 supervisor at Coronado Generating Station, sent an amazing powerpoint that used the long guillotine gates from the scrubbers for a sculpture to commemorate the area’s slot canyons. Because Littlesunday redeployed to another work assignment when NGS closed, the materials are being stored for future assembly. 

Mr. Shayne Jones

Zahney, who worked as an NGS machinist for almost five years before moving to Farmington, N.M, submitted his concept for the benches that feature the spring man.

“I thought that was the highlight of the bench,” Jones said. 

Jones got together with NGS Railroad & Heavy Equipment Manager Harold Watkins to assign Zahney the task, and Zahney got to work assembling axles, ties and other parts. 

But it wasn’t a one-man job. Zahney was going to need some highly-proficient, detailed welding help, Jones said. So Maretta Begay, an NGS metal fabricator for five years and exquisitely-skilled welder, stepped up and was assigned to the task. 

Asked what he thought of Begay’s welding ability, Zahney said, “Aw shoot, she blew me away. I don’t have to tell her anything. She knows what rods to use, what temperatures to set them at.”

“Being a woman in this field you have to be your best,” Begay said. “You have to sell yourself.” 

Begay gives credit to Zahney for the imagination brought to the benches and to Jones for knowing she wanted to be part of the two-month project. 

“Keno is the one who came up with the idea of the benches made out of railroad ties,” she said. “And we were thinking of a guy on his lunch break, just taking a break, leaning against the railroad ties. I’ve seen that happen. He’s just tired.”

And from that, Spring Man was born. 

As the benches took shape, Begay said other workers would come by to see it come alive. 

Both she and Zahney remember one of the more difficult parts of its construction was pounding in the railroad spikes. 

“We actually took those 20-pound sledgehammers and were pounding those nails into the railroad ties just the way they used to do it way back in the days,” she said. “This was hard. I can’t believe they used to do it like this.”

All the spikes were put in with Begay and Zahney taking turns, she said. 

“I was teasing Maretta and said, ‘I have a whole new respect for the people who did this way back before they had pneumatic tools to drive these in,'” Zahney said. “It was just a lot of work. That girl’s strong!”

Once completed came the task of deciding where to place the benches. Page Community & Recreation Services Director Lynn Cormier said Page Public Works Director Kyle Christiansen told her the benches were gorgeous and that they just had to do something great with them. 

“I said, ‘I know!/” Cormier said. “Let’s just find a place and pull the trigger.”

They decided the Sports Complex would be the ideal location. 

“We had this onslaught of softball tournaments coming in,” Cormier said. “People were just coming up and asking all of these questions about these benches. It was really neat because of all the fine details and you have Spring Man on one of them. You can sit there and watch the games.”

While the entire town can be proud of this art built from pieces of NGS, Zahney and Begay say they will always be especially meaningful to them. 

“They’re awesome,” Begay said. “It makes me feel really good to know I helped design and build them. It was an awesome experience. It makes me proud.”

Zahney said he reflects on how these benches began as just a sketch on paper. 

“It was an honor to bring the benches to reality,” he said. “To actually sit down on them was a great feeling. It means much more now that the stacks were taken down.”

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Pieces of NGS Grace Page Sports Complex as Public Art Memorial - overview

Summary: Pieces of NGS Grace Page Sports Complex as Public Art Memorial


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