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Why this Instagrammable bench was removed from a Rhyolite museum

Updated August 15, 2023 - 9:06 am

RHYOLITE — Where’s the bench?

That question is asked several times a day by visitors to Goldwell Open Air Museum in Rhyolite these days.

“Sit Here,” the colorful mosaic-covered sofa by artist Sofie Siegmann was dismantled and removed from the museum last month after it deteriorated into such condition that it could no longer be adequately and safely kept in repair.

“Sit Here” was very popular with Rhyolite visitors, and was used as the setting for countless selfies and group photos.

Siegmann created the piece in 2000 during a residency at Lied Children’s Museum in Las Vegas. The artist gave children the opportunity to work alongside her.

Along with patterns of colorful ceramic tiles, the sofa was also covered with a whimsical assortment of found objects, including pennies, poker chips, Disney toys, and even an enameled kitchen pot. A terra cotta flower pot on each arm served as possible ash trays or drink holders.

The sofa was not sealed or weather-proofed, as it was not intended for long-term outdoor installation. It came to Goldwell in 2007 when Goldwell Executive Director Suzanne Hackett-Morgan saw it on a loading dock for disposal.

Although it gave the appearance of being solid concrete, the sofa was actually hollow. It was constructed of a metal framework covered with a fine metal mesh. Concrete or mortar was then forced into the mesh to create a shell onto which the tiles and other objects were adhered and grouted.

During its tenure at Goldwell, “Sit Here” was in constant need of maintenance. In a few cases, objects needed to be replaced after people pried things off, but this was minor compared to damage from weather and wear.

Cracks developed in the grout between tiles and in the concrete shell, and water from rain or snow seeped in, rusting and weakening the metal mesh. Freezing water in winter lifted tiles and widened cracks. On many parts of the piece, a void developed between the outer tile and grout and the inner concrete shell.

One major repair involved removing all the tile from the seating area after holes developed in the seat. A sheet of plywood was glued and screwed to the seat, and the front edge was recontoured with carved wood and shapeable concrete., and tiles were reapplied to the entire area.

Eventually, the inner structure became so compromised that “Sit Here” was no longer safe for sitting, and further repair was impractical.

Some of the folks connected with Goldwell have talked of the possibility of creating a replacement for the sofa. If this happens, the replacement will be built to endure the elements.

Richard Stephens is a freelance reporter living in Beatty.

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