When Sofia Hernandez Crade says that the late Manitou Springs artist Charles H. Rockey has taken over her life, she means it literally.

An unfinished papier-mâché shoe and hand, each the size of an ottoman, claim the dinner table of her Colorado Springs home.

In her workshop, the kind-eyed and wispy-haired visage of Manitou’s Gandalf-like godfather gazes out, from an artistic facsimile the size of a washing machine.

The elements of what will be Hernandez Crade’s 24-foot-tall “love letter” — and giant puppet — honoring Charles Rockey, who died in June 2019 at age 87, are on their way to becoming possibly the largest entry in Manitou’s Mardi Gras parade next Saturday.

Hernandez Crade had wanted her creation to greet the crowds upright, but power lines along the parade route had other ideas.

He’ll now be traveling in a sitting position, via forklift, but “he’s definitely going to be big,” said Hernandez Crade, adding that she’s confident there will be room to get the finished pieces — built inside her home from fashioned frames of cardboard, metal and wood — out of the house for assembly, once the time comes.

“We put it out the door once and I don’t think he’s grown since then,” she said. “Worse comes to worst, I can break the window.”

She’s joking, but she’s not kidding. That’s how much sharing her large-scale homage to the man who helped inspire her artistic journey means.

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“Manitou was kind of my first home when I was 20 … and I grew up always going to Manitou with my parents and looking at Rockey’s work and just feeling that kind of ethos,” said Hernandez Crade, who created the sculpture of Rockey freehand, referencing photographs. “I wanted to do something that was a testament to the power of art and the power of an artist, and to give voice to that in a way that’s kind of fun, in the spirit of Rockey.”

Giant puppets have been a part of Manitou’s community Mardi Gras traditions for some three decades, said Laura Ettinger-Harwell, a co-chair of the city’s “Mani-Krewe” committee overseeing the weekend events, which were postponed from February to March 2 due to weather. Manitou artist Katie Orr is creating the “Mardi Gras monster,” a large-scale puppet set to debut at the parade in the most recent iteration of a legacy of massive, mobile and participatory creations that dates back to the festival’s founding.

This year’s theme, ARTopia, encouraged contributing artists to think outside the box and think big. Ettinger-Harwell said a giant rendition of the man whose impact on Manitou Springs is so big it’s hard to quantify, is just what they meant.

“Having a huge puppet of Rockey is beautiful,” she said. “We’re thrilled, and we can’t wait to see it.”

For Hernandez Crade, creating big art also represents a big step on a journey back from a dark place where the artist was hurting too much to create.

For many months after her 19-year-old brother, Demitri Crockett, was shot and killed in October 2022, Hernandez Crade couldn’t pick up a paintbrush — the skill that not only is her emotional outlet but her livelihood.

The case is still open, and Crockett’s killer remains at large.

“I think that’s kind of what this piece is for me, too,” Hernandez Crade said. “Kind of like a remaking, a rebirth, but also tying in this history that’s been really important and somebody who was such a huge role model for me.”


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