Las Vegas Sun

September 29, 2023

Restoration of vandalized rock art getting under way

Red Rock

Courtesy Friends of Red Rock Canyon

Damage is shown after vandals used spray paint on historic rock art panels at Red Rock Canyon.

Click to enlarge photo

Damage is shown after vandals used spray paint on historic rock art panels at Red Rock Canyon.

Work to restore vandalized ancient rock art in the “Sistine Chapel” of Red Rock Canyon is finally getting under way.

The art, left by American Indians thousands of years ago, was the target of graffiti vandals in November. Areas as large as 9 feet wide were covered with maroon spray paint, apparently for the shock value of the damage, police said.

The Bureau of Land Management has worked with two non-profit groups that support the park — the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association and the Friends of Red Rock Canyon — to hire an international expert to remove the graffiti and restore the art.

Jannie Loubser arrived this week and is preparing to get to work on the project, a delicate task that he compared to plastic surgery. The cleanup should be finished by the end of the month, he said.

Loubser has been working with rock art in four continents since 1989. After taking his first in-person look at the damage Thursday, he said there is good news and bad news.

“This is bad because of the material,” he said. “The spray paint is hard on rock, because the force of the application forces the paint into the rock.”

The bright side, he said, is it appears none of the spray paint is actually on top of the ancient art. “We’re lucky..It could have been worse,” he said.

Tim Wakefield, field manager for the BLM over the Red Rock/Sloan Field Office, said some visitors are upset it has taken so long to get the vandalism cleaned up.

“It’s our Sistine Chapel. It has been painted, and you don’t get just anybody to deal with that,” he said.

“You don’t rush into something that’s a spiritual, cultural site,” Wakefield said. “It would have been great if we could have gone in there and taken care of it that day, but we couldn’t do that, and we kind of benefited from it because the more people who see it, the more people realize how wrong it is.”

The project is expected to end up costing about $24,000, well above initial estimates of $10,000, officials said. But they believe they have raised enough money to cover the expense.

The Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association has raised more than $14,000, with $5,000 coming from NV Energy and $2,000 from the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe.

The Friends of Red Rock Canyon has received about $19,000 in donations, but part of that money is going to a reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.

In December, Metro Police arrested a 17-year-old on a count of placing graffiti with a gang enhancement, a felony that carries a possible five-year jail sentence and a fine up to $100,000.

Donations for the restoration and reward came pouring in immediately after the damage was disclosed, Friends President Mark Beauchamp said.

“It was great to find out that we’re not the only ones that think this is special,” he said.

The group was especially excited to receive a relatively small donation, $200 raised by 13 students at Grant Sawyer Middle School.

“That’s pretty generous for a bunch of school kids to get that together,” Beauchamp said.

The students were angry when they heard about the vandalism, so they took it upon themselves to raise the money from their classmates. The Friends group invited the 13 children on a field trip to the canyon Friday to see the damage first hand and meet with Loubser.

But the cost of the damage isn’t just reflected in the expense of cleaning up the graffiti, said Blaine Benedict, the executive director of the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association.

“We’re spending a significant amount of money to do the restoration, and the money could have been used to do other educational projects,” he said. “It’s a theft from thousands of school children of the opportunity to come to Red Rock Canyon and learn about the natural worlds.”

The visitors who come and see the damaged art are missing out, too, he said.

“We consider this a cultural asset and being in this condition deprives thousands of visitors the chance to contemplate and reflect on the people who were here before us,” Benedict said.

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