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Inmates carve planets for college observatory

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

Nevada State Prison inmates are carving their niche in the universe.

Reminiscent of the days of prison quarries, a group of elite artists are carving the nine planets from stone to form a walkway leading to the Jack C. Davis Observatory at Western Nevada Community College.

“I think it’s great that they trust and believe in us from seeing our past projects to ask us to do this,” said inmate Stu Bogert. “This is prison. And when you have people believing in you, it helps.”

The five-member group, formed through the prison’s Vietnam Veterans Association, gained recognition through the Vietnam Memorial Wall they built for Mills Park.

They also accept orders from the public to create personal rock sculptures, such as the headstone they carved for former warden David Meligan, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2001.

Inmate Monti Calvert’s family drove down to visit the veterans memorial and took pictures. His father donated tools to the program and distributes brochures to advertise the inmates’ work.

“My whole family’s real enthused with this project,” he said. “I can’t believe how much family support I have now that I’m doing the right thing.”

Helaine Jesse, vice president of institutional advancement for the college foundation, commissioned the group to carve the planets.

She visited the prison Tuesday morning to see the progress and film her local talk show, “Campus Chat,” which airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

“Oh, my God,” Jesse whispered as she walked through the display. “They’re beautiful. Look at Saturn. Oh, that’s beautiful.”

That’s the reaction inmate Albert Dawson was seeking.

“When I get done with something and someone looks at it and says, ‘Wow!’ it’s a boost for me,” he said.

Dawson began drawing as a way to pass the time in prison. Later, he worked with fellow inmate Billy Beck to paint murals in the waiting area.

Beck is also a part of the rock-carving crew. He took up painting while taking college courses at the prison through WNCC. He earned his associate’s degree in general studies.

Beck said art helps him endure his prison term.

“In here, you don’t get to see wildlife or a lot of trees,” he explained. “But if you paint them, you get to see them all the time.”

The carvers work in the area that used to be the prison’s quarry, where the stone was cut to make the Capitol and the U.S. Mint in Carson City.

Tools are stored in a cave that was once used as a dungeon for solitary confinement. It is now lined with brightly painted sculptures the prisoners are carving to fill private orders.

Since March, the carving group has raised about $30,000. The money is used to subsidize other programs such as laying sod for the baseball diamond and purchasing new chairs for, painting and carpeting the chapel.

The college’s foundation donated stones and tools to the program in exchange for the planets.

The walkway will form a solar-system path from the college to the observatory. Each planet will be accompanied by a plaque listing facts about it and a dedicatory engraving to the person who donated $25,000 to fund it.

The walkway should be complete by April, and the observatory will open May 15 with a “first light” ceremony.

INFORMATION

To place an order for a decorative rock sculpture, call Officer Al Hanke at 887-3464. An array of sculptures are available ranging from garden decorations to nameplates.

One planet left to raise funds for observatory

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

As long as the planets orbit the sun, Shelly Aldean’s father will be remembered.

Aldean’s mother, Eva Nahas, donated $25,000 to Western Nevada Community College to have a rock sculpture of Jupiter named in honor of her late husband, Robert Nahas.

Tuesday Aldean saw the sculpture, which will be dedicated to her father.

“I think it’s lovely,” she said. “It will make a wonderful memorial to my father.”

The stone carvings, crafted by inmates at the Nevada State Prison, will form the walkway from the college to the Jack C. Davis Observatory.

All the planets except Saturn have been purchased.

Officials decided to build the observatory in January 2000 with a $100,000 donation from the Nevada Gaming Association for Educational Excellence.

It has since grown into a million-dollar facility with five telescopes, including one in a robodome to track the movement of the sun.

The pinnacle of the fund-raising efforts came when former astronaut Buzz Aldrin held an open house and presentation at the college on April 28, 2001.

The observatory, named for the college’s first president Jack C. Davis, will serve students at the college and throughout the school district.

Software will be available allowing teachers to access the observatory from classrooms, and eight telescopes will rotate through the schools.

The structure is complete and be ready for use once the plumbing is installed.

It will open to the public with a “first light” ceremony on May 15, the day of a full lunar eclipse.

To purchase the Saturn sculpture, call the Western Nevada Community College Foundation office at 445-3240.

One planet left to raise funds for observatory

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

As long as the planets orbit the sun, Shelly Aldean’s father will be remembered.

Aldean’s mother, Eva Nahas, donated $25,000 to Western Nevada Community College to have a rock sculpture of Jupiter named in honor of her late husband, Robert Nahas.

Tuesday Aldean saw the sculpture, which will be dedicated to her father.

“I think it’s lovely,” she said. “It will make a wonderful memorial to my father.”

The stone carvings, crafted by inmates at the Nevada State Prison, will form the walkway from the college to the Jack C. Davis Observatory.

All the planets except Saturn have been purchased.

Officials decided to build the observatory in January 2000 with a $100,000 donation from the Nevada Gaming Association for Educational Excellence.

It has since grown into a million-dollar facility with five telescopes, including one in a robodome to track the movement of the sun.

The pinnacle of the fund-raising efforts came when former astronaut Buzz Aldrin held an open house and presentation at the college on April 28, 2001.

The observatory, named for the college’s first president Jack C. Davis, will serve students at the college and throughout the school district.

Software will be available allowing teachers to access the observatory from classrooms, and eight telescopes will rotate through the schools.

The structure is complete and be ready for use once the plumbing is installed.

It will open to the public with a “first light” ceremony on May 15, the day of a full lunar eclipse.

To purchase the Saturn sculpture, call the Western Nevada Community College Foundation office at 445-3240.