An imaginary south wind has bent an iron-work tree over a curved metal chair and riffled the pages of a sheet-metal book titled, “And You Also.”
That was a signature comment of Warren Barnes, a gentle, homeless 69-year-old who was a downtown fixture known as “the reading man” because he so often sat along this breezeway absorbed in a book. Passersby would stop to chat about what he was reading and, if they bid him, “have a good day,” he invariably responded, “And you also.”
Barnes was killed last February as he slept under an elevated roadway near downtown. His alleged killer told investigators he chose Barnes because he didn’t think anyone would miss an old homeless person.
But Barnes’ many friends in downtown Grand Junction did — and still do — miss him. They collected donations to have a permanent memorial erected in honor of the grizzled and well-read old cowboy.
Tim Navin, a metal artist who was once homeless himself, spent 285 hours creating the Warren Barnes Memorial sculpture at his Sparks Fly Studio in Fruita. This past weekend, Navin and a team of friends armed with drills, nuts and bolts, and epoxies permanently placed the Warren Barnes Memorial just off Main Street between a book store and a bridal shop.
Friends of Barnes stood by and added the tears.
“He wouldn’t have believed so many people cared about him so much,” said Monique Lanotti who used to place Barnes’ special chair in a sunny spot behind her bridal shop. It was his place to doze in the sun, feed birds that gathered around his worn boots, and read paperback thriller and Louis L’Amour Westerns.
Navin painstakingly recreated the chair in metal. He added a tree over it, he said, because he thought Barnes would have liked it. The same for the pile of books and the element of wind lifting pages.
“I had a couple of interactions with him in my life,” the 39-year-old Navin said. “I am six years sober now and I was in a position where I was able to do this project for him. I wanted to do it because I had kind of been in his shoes.”
The young man accused of killing Barnes is slated to be arraigned next month and to go to trial next spring.
In the meantime, Barnes has not been forgotten, nor will he be. His memorial bears the simple message, “Warren was here.”