Saturday, July 4, 2020


Moab, UT

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    Memorial to late husband lights downtown Moab

    Widow commissions local artist to create sculpture

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    Doug McMurdo
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    Editor Doug McMurdo reports on news out of the Moab City Center, tourism, courts, change of government and more.

    A small crowd gathered on a blustery Friday night at the corner where 100 West bends into 100 South not far from the Mill Creek Parkway. They were there to witness the unveiling of Moab’s latest offering of public art — an illuminated 10-foot-tall sculpture of welded steel and carved Colorado Yule marble set in a sandstone boulder.

    Wendy Lee Palmer and Micheal Ford Dunton stand next to Dunton's sculpture he created in honor of Palmer's late husband, Tyler Palmer.
    Wendy Lee Palmer and Castle Valley artist Micheal Ford Dunton stand next to Caelum, a large and lighted sculpture she commissioned in memory of her late husband, Tyler Palmer. Photo by Doug McMurdo

    They were there to honor the man in whose name the piece, dubbed Caelum, was commissioned. And like the man for whom the sculpture was made, it is the light within that sets it apart.

    Tyler Palmer died at the age of 33 in a head-on collision on a fog-shrouded Highway 6 near Green River on Jan. 11, 2019. J.R. Nelson, 37, from Price, was in the other car. He also died in the crash that veteran law enforcement investigators said was “awful.”

    Palmer’s widow, Wendy Lee Palmer, continues to grieve for her husband, a man she honors with daily tributes on her Instagram page.

    Palmer wanted to do more in her husband’s name as she continues to process her grief, so she commissioned Castle Valley artist Micheal Ford Dunton to create the piece, which Palmer has donated to the city, she said, so that people can “remember all that Tyler gave us.”

    He was an adventurer and a traveler. He was a loving father to their young son and devoted to Wendy. He was a licensed therapist who worked with troubled teenagers. He used nature and the wilderness he loved to reach those teens. He was the guy everybody loved.

    “Tyler was kind, charismatic, and bursting at the seams with life. He was able to change a day or, literally, the course of your whole life in just a moment,” Wendy said at the June 5 dedication — on what would have been their 12th wedding anniversary. “He compelled people to improve their lives. He was grounding and exciting at the same time and he was a beacon to those who were struggling.”

    Dunton said he had previously met Wendy a few years ago and was honored when she came to him many months ago with a “seed” of an idea on what she wanted.

    “She wanted to memorialize him and how he lived his life,” said Dunton in an interview with The Times-Independent.

    The weight was heavy. “Emotionally, that informed everything I did,” he said. “It was very moving to be asked to do that and that set the tone, for sure. It’s always there. Every day I got up to work I immersed myself in the depth of meaning. I feel like she really made me up my game.”

    Dunton added a bench for people to use for contemplation, and solar panels are used to subtly light the sculpture at night. “I really wanted it to be special, for Wendy’s sake, and hopefully create a piece for Moab. We had talked about things, where it would go, and when I saw the spot downtown, I knew that space demanded something big. Christy and I got to know Wendy really well. We have a pretty deep relationship and I have to tell you it was an honor to do this.”

    The feeling is mutual.

    “I am honored Micheal Ford Dunton poured his heart into this,” Wendy said at Friday’s dedication. “Remember all that Tyler gave to us. May we all strive to positively impact those with whom we interact. I dedicate this to my beautiful husband and my best friend.”

    About the name. Wendy said she believes Tyler is in the stars. Caelum is a constellation in the southern sky discovered in the 1750s and it is one of the 88 modern constellations. And what does it symbolize? The chisel.

    Mayor Emily Niehaus was not able to attend Friday’s dedication, but she left her comments with Dunton’s wife, Christy Williams Dunton, who read them: “I am deeply inspired by this collaboration. Dunton’s medium of curved steel and soft stone paired with the celebration of Tyler’s life is a physical representation of the strength and weight of his memory. I am grateful to Wendy for her gift to the Moab community in honoring Tyler and creating space for us all to pause and hold tight the ones we love.”

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