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Monumental spirit

Statues created by Dr. Kenneth Fox are some of Auburn's must-see sights
By: GLoria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: This is the the first in a 10-part series exploring the stories behind some of Auburn’s iconic people and landmarks. Standing 42 feet high and weighing 120 tons, the “Amazon Archer” and her companion, the lofty “Amazon Warrior,” have delighted, amazed — and, at times, irked — passersby on Auburn Ravine Road since the 1970s. The massive concrete statues, depicting partially clothed figures, are the work of Dr. Kenneth Fox, whose dental office sits nearby, the two-story building dwarfed by his creations. Alongside the Amazons are two smaller statues — “Chains of Bondage” and “Freedom’s Prayer.” Built in the late 1960s and ’70s, those and other pieces of his artwork — “Claude Chana” in Old Town, the “Coolie” statue at the Chamber of Commerce office in Downtown and the “Why” statue at the County Administrative Building on Fulweiler Avenue — have acquired a unique niche in the Auburn landscape. Fox, 83, didn’t even start his sculptures until he was in his 40s. The Amazons are the largest of his works, his inspiration coming from Greek mythology. “I had to build scaffolding 40 feet high,” Fox said Wednesday. “I had scale models and built from that. The steelwork took six months, and the concrete work about seven days — working 20-hour days. You had to be in condition.” Once the steel framework was in place, he poured a solid concrete center and then began sculpting from the ground up. “I’d take a half-hour nap now and then, and then go for another four or five hours,” he said. “I didn’t stop until it was finished.” He had to work fast to stay ahead of the drying cement, he said. A couple of Fox’s three sons, who were in high school at the time, assisted him. Auburn resident Kathy Sanders watched the construction of the statues as a young girl. When she returned to the foothills recently after 30 years in Idaho, she was pleasantly surprised to see they were still in place. “I think they’re wonderful,” she said. “I can’t believe they’ve lasted all this time. But they were a little controversial back then.” Probably the most well known of Fox’s works, because of its location and historical significance, is the statue of “Claude Chana,” the miner credited with starting Auburn when he found gold in a local ravine in 1848. The 45-ton structure of concrete and reinforcing steel depicts Chana with gold pan in hand. Located at the entrance to Old Town and plainly visible from Interstate 80, it is a magnet for tourists. For his model, Fox chose Paul Avery, a previous Bowman resident who had actually mined for gold. The “Coolie” statue, several feet from the tracks at the site of the former railroad depot, is a tribute to Chinese workers who built the transcontinental railway over the Sierra. But it all began in 1967, when Fox created the “Why” statue at the request of some World War I veterans. Much smaller than the others he constructed later, it was a monument to troops killed in war. Located at the entrance to the county Administrative Center parking lot, it depicts a soldier carrying his dead buddy in his arms. “That’s my favorite,” Fox said. When he created the statue, it was during the Vietnam War, and naming it “Why” created some controversy. County officials at first asked Fox to change the name, but he refused, citing freedom of speech. So the county removed the name plaque. The dispute received national and international media coverage, according to previous Journal reporting. The plaque was later restored. It was during that time Fox constructed “Chains of Bondage” and “Freedom’s Prayer” — his response to the disagreement over the “Why” statue. Today the much-beloved “Why” statue is the frequent site of Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. Fox still works a couple of days a week in his dental practice, but he hasn’t made statues for many years. “You get a little older, you don’t have the stamina anymore,” he said. “It takes terrific stamina climbing 40 feet up and down the huge scaffolding.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com. -------- Dr. Kenneth Fox Age: 83 Resident of Auburn since childhood Occ: Dentist Best known for his sculptures of statues placed around Auburn Dr. Fox's sculptures “Amazon Archer” — 42 feet tall, 120 tons — located on Auburn Ravine Road “Amazon Warrior” — 30 feet tall, 115 tons — located on Auburn Ravine Road “Claude Chana” statue — 45 tons — located at the entrance to Old Town “Coolie” statue — tribute to Chinese workers who built the transcontinental railroad across the Sierra — located next to the Auburn Chamber of Commerce “Why” statue — tribute to troops killed in war — located at the Placer County Administrative Center on Fulweiler Avenue “Chains of Bondage” and “Freedom’s Prayer” — located at Fox’s dental office on Auburn Ravine Road