Neighbors hope to find home for Moses

by Steven Felschundneff |

Just like the prophet from antiquity, Claremont has its own Moses, which fittingly has been wandering around a neighborhood in the Village looking for the “promised land.”

Our Moses is an eight-foot-tall wooden sculpture carved by Charles Chase, the longtime co-owner of the Folk Music Center. Mr. Chase created Moses and another large wood sculpture out of tree trunks rescued from Memorial Park sometime in the 1980s, according to his daughter Ellen Harper Chase. The sculptures remained at the Chase household on the southwest corner of Cambridge Avenue and Twelfth Street until shortly after both Mr. Chase and his wife Dorothy died about 15 years ago.

That is when Moses began to move around. In anticipation of offering the home for sale at the time, an effort was made to find a new home for the wood sculptures and a woman who lived across the street, at the southeast corner of Twelfth  and Cambridge, gladly agreed to be their next steward. And that’s where they stayed until two weeks ago.

That home, located at 692 W. Twelfth Street, was unfortunately sold through foreclosure in 2019 for $832,500, according to Zillow. The new owners apparently are investors who plan ti flip the home.

Thursday evening, March 25, workers began cutting all of the trees down at the home including a large live oak, which was distressing for many in the neighborhood. But neighbors were not concerned about the sculptures because the owner had been told about their importance to the history of Claremont.

The next morning, however, neighbor Diane Barnes saw one sculpture toppled over and immediately asked the work crew to give the community some time to get the artwork moved.

That’s when Ms. Barnes and other neighbors went to work. She contacted David Shearer of Claremont Heritage, and local artist Zach Taliesin also got in on the rescue attempt.

“It was a collaborative effort, she said. My neighbor Amanda reached out to the Harpers. Joel [Harper] was aware of [the sculptures] and definitely wanted to save them,” Ms. Barnes said.

Mr. Shearer went to the house as soon as he got the word, and called local landscaping contractor Jonescape, which sent a flat bed truck and relocated Moses to another Twelfth Street home. The second artwork had rotted significantly and was cut up and removed.

Moses, which resembles something from Easter Island, is not done wandering. Mr. Shearer and the neighbors are searching for a permanent home for Moses, hopefully one that would not be at risk again when real estate changes hands.

Ellen Harper Chase said because she lives in Live Oak Canyon she cannot take the sculpture, which is essentially a decades old dry log, due to high wildfire risk.

“It would be great if the city could find someplace for it maybe at city hall,” she said.

Mr. Shearer said the city has a pretty good sized public art fund and he will inquire whether Moses’ fate could be added to the public art committee meeting agenda, which is scheduled for Monday.

“The neighbors believe it should go to a city location possibly as a welcoming sentry to the neighborhood on Mountain,” Mr. Shearer said, referring to the pocket park where the “Claremont Tree” is at the corner of Mountain Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.

Other possible locations include a private home in the Twelfth Street area, or perhaps back to Memorial Park, where for years the sculpture was once one of the many shade trees.

“There has got to be a good place for it somewhere,” Ms. Barnes said. “It would be good for it to stay in the neighborhood, which feels like its home.”

Ms. Harper Chase remembers her father carving Moses in the “80s or 90s” from an old sycamore stump. Even though he ran the Folk Music Center for more than four decades, Mr. Chase was mostly deaf and did not play very much music. He was, however, famous for his ability to repair musical instruments. Dorothy Chase taught music lessons at the Folk, which Ms. Harper Chase currently manages. Ms. Harper Chase does have a stone sculpture by her father and several of his large steel artworks have been in the alley behind the Folk Music Center for decades.

“I do hope they find someone who can save it,” Ms. Harper Chase said.


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