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Artists Design Sheep Wagon for the 21st Century
Artist Jeronimo Hagerman, of Mexico City, holds one of the plants that he used to decorate the McNichol's building in Civic Center Park in Denver, as workers in the background attach plant holders to the pillars on the building. The building, that once house Denver's tax offices, was spruced up for the inaugural "Biennial of the America's" that began July 1. AP Photo/Ed Andrieski.

By: Ivan Moreno, Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP).- Colorado artists want to give a futuristic makeover to the rustic sheep wagons used by immigrant workers across the West.

Immigrants from Peru, Chile, Mexico and Nepal who come to the U.S. sometimes live in worn-out one-room trailers in desolate landscapes, including in Wyoming, California, and Utah. The working conditions caught the attention of Colorado lawmakers this year, but no legislation materialized.

Immigrant advocates argue that the workers' living conditions and salaries are deplorable, while sheep ranchers maintain that their workers were treated and paid fairly.

Artists with the Yuma-based nonprofit M12 say the least they can do is spurce up the portable homes in a creative way.

They created three proposals to revamp the sheep wagon — known to the workers as "campitos" — and will show the designs on the walls of a trailer turned into a gallery, along with an old sheep wagon for comparison.

"There's been a lot of attacks on ranchers. Our perspective is not that. Our perspective is a creative one that's looking at the structure," said Richard Saxton, one of the members of M12.

The exhibition is part of Denver's monthlong "Biennial of the Americas," a festival that began Thursday and highlights the arts and culture of the Western Hemisphere. Artists from 35 Latin American countries and world leaders are coming to the event.

"These things look like covered wagons because they were designed in the 19th century at a time when that made sense," Saxton said. "Our question was, what would a campito look like for the 21st century?"

What M12 came up with were tricked-out wagons that look like they came out of "The Jetsons." One design looks like a roly poly, folding into a ball to be towed by a truck and unfolding into a tent-shaped wagon when it's parked. In another design, the wagon looks like a space capsule with wheels similar to those of a Mars rover. The third design is made up of three modules for a garden, bed, and kitchen — features that all the designs have, along with a global communications system to make phone calls.

They're up to 14 feet wide — much larger than the current campitos.

The designs address some of the concerns raised by immigrant advocates, mainly that the workers don't have showers, electricity, or a way to communicate with their bosses or relatives back home while they work their three-year contracts in the U.S. The length of the workers' contracts also influenced the designs.

"Somebody herding sheep for three years, sort of in isolation, it's not so different than sending somebody off to the moon to live. That's why a lot of these (designs) — this is very sort of very NASA," Saxton said. "We like those sort of parallels. What happens if you merge sort of the NASA aesthetic with a farm aesthetic."

It's unclear how much the wagons would cost if they were built, but Saxton argues that they could be manufactured for about $16,000. He admits the ultimate problem, however, is that sheep ranchers just don't have the money to buy new campitos.

The American Sheep Industry Association has said that about two-thirds of U.S. ranchers have quit in the last 15 years, in part because of competition overseas and the competition to wool from synthetic fiber. Any cost increase to the ranchers, the industry has said, could put them in jeopardy. The Colorado Wool Growers Association did not respond to calls for comment.

Thomas Acker, an associate professor of Spanish at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, for years has advocated for improving the living conditions of the sheepheders. He said he hopes the exhibit will open up a dialogue on all the design possibilities for a campito.

"The fact that they're so futuristic-looking, I think it will jettison the argument into a new realm," he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Colorado | Richard Saxton | Biennial of the Americas |

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