WILD COUN­TRY

Out­doors­man and sculp­tor Tim Shin­abarger de­buts nine new bronze works at a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion at the Legacy Gallery in Jack­son.

Western Art Collector - - RECENTLY ACQUIRED - By Michael Claw­son

There’s an old say­ing that goes, “Never trust a skinny cook.” Well, never trust a wildlife artist who can’t camp among the an­i­mals for a few nights. Or months. Go­ing by that met­ric alone, Tim Shin­abarger is as se­ri­ous as wildlife artists come. Al­though the sculp­tor is quite at home trekking through the forests and fields of Montana, he has been lay­ing low in the stu­dio for the last 15 months while pre­par­ing for a new solo ex­hi­bi­tion, the likes of which he’s never un­der­taken be­fore, one that will fea­ture nine brand-new bronzes. The new pieces, like much of his work, are in­formed by his time out­doors among the el­e­ments, land­scapes and the an­i­mals, from which he draws much of his in­spi­ra­tion. Like Carl Rungius and Philip R. Good­win be­fore him, camping, hunt­ing, fish­ing, ca­noe­ing, hik­ing and liv­ing off the land are not just a fa­vorite pas­times—they rep­re­sent a way of life.

“The wilder­ness is key to who I am. I don’t know where one starts and the other stops be­cause it’s so meshed to­gether into a lifestyle, one that brings au­then­tic­ity and truth to the work,” Shin­abarger says. “I can tell right away if a sculp­ture was based on a wild an­i­mal or a zoo an­i­mal. An­i­mals in zoos have a dif­fer­ent body lan­guage—it comes down to a wild at­ti­tude. Wit­ness­ing an­i­mals first­hand in the wild is ev­ery­thing to a wildlife sculp­tor.”

Shin­abarger will be show­ing his new bronze works at a solo ex­hi­bi­tion, For­ever Wild, on Septem­ber 14 at the Legacy Gallery in Jack­son, Wy­oming. The show opens with a re­cep­tion, dur­ing which all nine new bronzes will be avail­able, as well as a se­lect few pieces from

sold-out edi­tions of older works. Some of the works will be sold by draw dur­ing the open­ing night re­cep­tion.

For the artist, the buildup for a show of this cal­iber re­quired months of prepa­ra­tion and more than a year of con­sis­tent stu­dio time, all of which meant he would have to turn down other shows, in­clud­ing sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions. “I just had to bury my­self in the stu­dio. It was fun, though, to have that many pieces go­ing all at once. I would work on one and if it got stale I could ro­tate it out and work on an­other one with a fresh eye. It was an en­er­giz­ing way to work,” he says from his Billings, Montana, stu­dio. “One thing peo­ple don’t of­ten re­al­ize with bronzes is how much work goes into each piece. I spent a lot of time just in the shop build­ing bases, put­ting to­gether pipes and cre­at­ing ar­ma­tures. Some of the more com­plex pieces needed an over­head drop-down sup­port, and all that takes time to cre­ate and put to­gether. And all that is not even count­ing the foundry time af­ter the sculp­ture is done. It’s all very time con­sum­ing, es­pe­cially for 11 new pieces, nine of which will be in the show.” All of this work tends to fill an artist’s days and weeks quite quickly, but Shin­abarger still found time to duck out and ap­pre­ci­ate the “land and all the crit­ters.” Places in and around Billings are not only great spots to find in­spi­ra­tion, they are also home to the artist, who has spent all of his life in Montana—he was born in Great Falls, and has lived in Boze­man and Gar­diner be­fore set­tling in Billings. These Montana set­tings had a pro­found im­pact on his de­vel­op­ment as an artist, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of an­other fa­mous Montana sculp­tor.

“Back when I was grow­ing up in the mid1970s, Char­lie Rus­sell’s work was ev­ery­where. If you went to a restau­rant and or­dered some­thing it was served on a Char­lie Rus­sell place­mat. I was sur­rounded by Rus­sell. At age 6, 7 and 8, in that range, my par­ents took me to the Rus­sell Mu­seum and I could see his stu­dio and home. My folks had even known peo­ple that had known him, and some of them had orig­i­nals on their walls at home,” Shin­abarger says. “I was en­thralled look­ing at his work in mu­se­ums. I re­mem­ber telling my­self I’ll never be able to af­ford one of his works, so I’ll just make my own. Rus­sell planted the seed.”

Shin­abarger would go on to study painting and sculpt­ing in col­lege, even tak­ing evening art classes, but would grad­u­ate with a busi­ness de­gree. It was only later that he was put in touch with some pro­fes­sional artists. His dad was friends with land­scape painter Bob Bar­low, and Bar­low was well con­nected with artists like Clyde Aspe­vig, Skip Whit­comb and Hol­lis Wil­li­ford. These con­nec­tions led to oth­ers, in­clud­ing some with the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica, artists such as Gary Carter. “But it was Hol­lis who re­ally took me un­der his wing. He used to teach an ex­ten­sive work­shop and it went all week. The only day off you got was on Sun­day and even then you had home­work. It was a tough course but I learned a lot and it had a huge im­pact on my ca­reer,” Shin­abarger says. “What im­pressed me about Hol­lis was that he did all three: draw­ing, sculpt­ing and paint­ings. And he was able to con­vey in me his thought process. That it doesn’t mat­ter what medium you were work­ing in be­cause your thought process would dic­tate ev­ery­thing.”

By 1990 he was show­ing in Boze­man,

where he was liv­ing at the time af­ter col­lege, and grad­u­ally his work started to ma­ture. It was around this time that his re­la­tion­ship with na­ture was also deep­en­ing and widen­ing: in the Custer Na­tional For­est he was on a rapid re­sponse he­li­tack crew, a self-suf­fi­cient team of fire­fight­ers that were trans­ported to fires by he­li­copters; he was a wilder­ness ranger in Yel­low­stone; and later a field guide for hunt­ing, fish­ing and ad­ven­ture-bound clients.

“When I was on the he­li­tack crew, it was some­thing else. We were in a re­ally hot dis­trict and it was noth­ing at all to have 20 fires a night. In 1988 we had more than 500 fires the whole sum­mer. There were 15 of us and we’d fly out in he­li­copters and just fight fires in these very hot ar­eas,” Shin­abarger says. “When I was a wilder­ness ranger I would wan­der around the back­coun­try and make sure trails were clear and talk to peo­ple about wilder­ness ethics. It was fun be­cause I was just a wan­der­ing na­tur­ist mak­ing pub­lic con­tacts. I would also work a lot with horses and mules. Then, when I was work­ing with out­fit­ters, it was put­ting me in touch with peo­ple who were ex­cited about my

work. These were peo­ple who liked the kind of work al­ready, so they would just buy pieces di­rectly from me. It meshed re­ally well.”

All of this time out­doors, which also in­cluded per­sonal camping trips with his wife and friends, led to a pro­found and mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world, one that he would al­low to per­me­ate through to his art­work, much of which fea­tured an­i­mals he had en­coun­tered, places he had vis­ited or in­volved emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences that spoke to him. “Ev­ery day out there is an in­spi­ra­tion,” he adds.

Sculp­tor Tim Cherry, who’s friends with Shin­abarger, says the artist takes his time in na­ture very se­ri­ously and en­joys in­cor­po­rat­ing it into his work. “Ev­ery­thing he does is based on na­ture and his ex­pe­ri­ences. And his work has a lot of heart for that rea­son. You can see it in ev­ery ges­ture, each one is spot on. Tim is out there ev­ery day ob­serv­ing and be­ing a part of na­ture, it’s the heart and soul of his work,” Cherry says, adding that his new ex­hi­bi­tion will be well worth the wait. “For Tim to put aside many of his reg­u­lar obli­ga­tions for nearly two years just to con­cen­trate on these new works, that’s an amaz­ing level of com­mit­ment for these new pieces. He’s worked re­ally hard, and it’s go­ing to be dy­na­mite. It’s go­ing to knock your socks off. And it couldn’t hap­pen to a bet­ter per­son: he’s a tremen­dous guy, a tremen­dous artist and a tremen­dous friend who de­serves ev­ery ac­co­lade he’s go­ing to get.”

Works in the Legacy show in­clude a num­ber of new deer and elk pieces such as Wapiti and Out of the North, both of which show an­i­mals strid­ing mag­nif­i­cently. In Lined Out and Leavin’, Shin­abarger shows seven elk fig­ures on a ridge­line, which cuts a mag­nif­i­cent sil­hou­ette as each an­i­mal holds a dif­fer­ent pose. “That was one that was ex­cit­ing sim­ply be­cause of the sil­hou­ettes, and the ges­tures they were all mak­ing were fun to rough in,” Shin­abarger says. “This was also a piece that took a lot of time to build and get right. A lot of thought went into the ar­ma­ture as I played with each piece to make sure ev­ery­thing worked as a whole.”

Other works in­clude The Ap­pari­tion, a wall­mounted piece of a cougar on two separate tree

limbs, and Along the Hoback, an­other wall­mounted piece, this one of a moun­tain man on horse­back as­cend­ing a nar­row trail with a pack­horse. “Moun­tain men were some of my ear­li­est works be­fore my No. 1 love, which is wildlife. I just love the ex­plo­ration and his­tory of these sub­jects. I love to think about them in these wild ar­eas with un­ob­structed 60-mile views of the moun­tains and, at one point, with a mil­lion buf­falo be­low them. They were see­ing the land in its pris­tine state. I love es­cap­ing back to that time,” he says, adding that in his re­search he found many myths about early Amer­i­can moun­tain men. “One myth is the beards they all wore. There is lots of doc­u­men­ta­tion of shav­ing kits be­ing sent out West. These men, many in their 20s, were shav­ing more of­ten than we think. They were also around In­dian women, and they thought the men were an­i­mals with their beards. An­other myth is the coy­ote skin hats they are of­ten shown wear­ing. I’ve been trap­ping in Alaska and I’ve worn a fur cap. Un­less it’s 20 be­low it’s just too hot for a fur cap.”

As the ex­hi­bi­tion grows closer, Shin­abarger has found him­self in the stu­dio less as works mi­grate to the foundry, where he is su­per­vis­ing the cast­ing of the first edi­tions. He’s also ex­cited to once again re­turn to the wild, where he can be­gin to plan his next pieces. He also hopes to be­gin painting more.

“I al­ways ad­mired Hol­lis be­cause he drew, he painted and he sculpted. His phi­los­o­phy was that clay, paint, char­coal, it’s all the same,” he says. “One of my fa­vorite artists of all time is John Singer Sar­gent. His work just blows me away be­cause he found lots of ways to ap­ply the medium to cre­ate an il­lu­sion. In any given painting he could have ap­plied 20 dif­fer­ent tech­niques. I love that, com­ing up with dif­fer­ent forms of cal­lig­ra­phy to cre­ate some­thing. What­ever you use, though, you have to breathe life into it, breathe a soul into it.”

Lined Out and Leavin’, bronze, ed. of 18, 16½ x 57½ x 10”

Tim Shin­abarger in Montana in 2017.

Tim Shin­abarger in his Montana stu­dio with his new work.

Out of the North, bronze, ed. of 24, 20 x 20½ x 10”

The Ap­pari­tion, clay for bronze, ed. of 24, 40 x 22 x 13”

Mu­ley, bronze, ed. of 30, 20 x 9 x 7½”

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