FROZEN IN BRONZE

Artists vie for Stam­pede hon­ours

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MICHELE JARVIE

It’s one thing to ride a wild buck­ing horse; it’s an­other al­to­gether to cap­ture the pow­er­ful de­tail of bulging mus­cles, fly­ing hoofs and a cow­boy hang­ing on for dear life.

But un­der­stand­ing rodeo is key to cre­at­ing au­then­tic, hon­est rep­re­sen­ta­tions, first in clay and even­tu­ally as bronze sculp­tures.

“Bronc rid­ing is some­thing that’s hard to get out of your blood,” said Con Wil­liams, a for­mer rodeo cow­boy from Bel­grade, Mont., who now cre­ates tro­phies for some of rodeo’s best.

Wil­liams re­lies on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence when sculpt­ing fine de­tails and mov­ing parts of both horse and rider.

“You kind of build from the inside out and try to keep the anatomy cor­rect,” said Wil­liams, who keeps horses and tack nearby to re­fer to when sculpt­ing.

“Some­times you can work on it for a week and it doesn’t work. Other times, it can take two to three days and it works re­ally well.”

Wil­liams and 26 other artists are vy­ing to have their bronze sculp­tures cho­sen by the Calgary Stam­pede as tro­phies for rodeo events and chuck­wagon for the next five years. The Stam­pede has been award­ing bronzes to its cham­pi­ons since 1940.

There are al­most 200 sculp­tures of every­thing from tie-down rop­ing scenes to large horse heads on dis­play at the Agrium Event Cen­tre at Stam­pede Park. A team of judges will choose 15 for rodeo cham­pi­ons, six for chuck­wagon rac­ing and three for the Calgary Stam­pede Novice Tour.

Most of the sculp­tures are in clay form; a few are al­ready fin­ished in bronze. To an am­a­teur, it’s dif­fi­cult to com­pare one horse and rider or chuck­wagon sculpture to an­other. But judge Les McIn­tyre has a prac­tised eye, even though it’s his first time judg­ing the bronze com­pe­ti­tion.

“I look for the artis­tic value, the con­fir­ma­tion and de­tail in a bronze that per­tains to the event. You can tell, when you look at a piece of art­work, a lot about the artists as far as their fa­mil­iar­ity with the sport and the event. Authen­tic­ity, orig­i­nal­ity of an idea is im­por­tant to me,” said McIn­tyre, a long­time track an­nouncer for the GMC Ran­ge­land Derby, for­mer chuck­wagon com­peti­tor and auc­tion­eer who has sold his share of western art sculp­tures.

“There’s some ex­cel­lent art­work here to­day. This is not as easy as I thought it would be,” he said with a laugh.

In­deed, there’s a ton of tal­ent rep­re­sented in the room. Crys­tal Moss­ing of Rocky Moun­tain House has had four sculp­tures cho­sen by the Stam­pede in the 2008-12 se­ries, and an­other in 2013-17, as well as the World Cham­pion Black­smith Tro­phy for 2008-14.

No­table artist Chris Navarro of Wy­oming has crafted 31 “mon­u­men­tal” bronzes all across the U.S. and he also cre­ated the Stam­pede’s steer wrestling tro­phy for 2013-17.

And, Don Toney of Leth­bridge has cre­ated more than 450 lim­ited edi­tion bronzes and eight life-size bronzes in his 37-year ca­reer.

But McIn­tyre said it’s also ex­cit­ing to see new artists emerg­ing.

“There’s al­ways new ones com­ing up that re­ally change the game and add to it as well.”

Shay Keller hopes that in­cludes him this year. A tie-down roper from Rock­glen, Sask., he’s al­ready mak­ing a name for him­self af­ter be­ing awarded the con­tract to cre­ate bronzes for the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in­ductees for 2016-20. Adding a Stam­pede tro­phy would surely boost his young ca­reer.

“It would be a huge open door for me, lots of ex­po­sure,” he said.

Even though Wil­liams has a few decades on Keller, he, too, says win­ning a Stam­pede bronze com­mis­sion is a big deal.

“It’s an hon­our. This is the great­est rodeo in the world right here. So it’s re­ally an hon­our.”

The pub­lic can view all of the sculp­tures Fri­day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the up­per-level suites of the Agrium Western Event Cen­tre.

PHO­TOS: GAVIN YOUNG

Artist Shay Keller dis­plays one of his en­tries in this year’s Calgary Stam­pede Cham­pion Tro­phy Bronze com­pe­ti­tion at Stam­pede Park on Thurs­day. Al­most 200 sculp­tures from 27 artists are on dis­play and in the run­ning to be cho­sen as pres­ti­gious Stam­pede tro­phies.

Con Wil­liams was a rodeo cow­boy be­fore try­ing his hand at sculpt­ing and uses that knowl­edge to bring as much authen­tic­ity to the work as pos­si­ble.

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