Collector’s Focus: Western Sculpture
Sculpture of the people and animals of the American West was enormously popular at the turn of the last century. There was a sense of nostalgia as artists and the general public thought the Native American culture was dying out and the romantic life of the cowboy was about to become a thing of the past. Frederic Remington (1861-1909), who set the standard for depicting Western figures, said, in 1907, “My West passed utterly out of existence so long ago as if to make it merely a dream. It put on its hat, took up its blankets and marched off the board; the curtain came down and a new act was in progress.”
Animals, such as the bison, had been hunted nearly to extinction. Once numbering in the tens of millions, they were hunted for food and clothing by Native peoples and then slaughtered by the federal government in an effort to control the Native population.
A century later, Native culture persists and adapts with about 500,000 bison back on the plains, and cowboys continue to herd cattle. The tradition of Remington and Russell is continued by some sculptors while others use new materials and techniques of interpretations based on the powerful artistic movements of the 20th century. Native artists express their traditions in different materials as well.
Paul Moore’s scrupulously accurate and dramatic sculptures range from his Oklahoma Centennial Land Run Monument with bronze figures one and a half times lifesize and extending the length of a football field, to intimate table top bronzes. Remington’s famed The Bronco Buster, 1895, depicts a nearly synchronous relationship between an untamed horse and his rider.
In Moore’s sculpture, The Wreck, the relationship of horse and rider has split. The horse is in the air and the rider, with his boot still stuck in the stirrup, lies on the ground shielding his head with his arm.
Ed Mell wanted to design cars when he was a boy. He never did design cars but now owns a collection of classics. His feeling for design and his command of it bring a strong modernist look to his work. He works from nature but says, “I like to push it a little further and bring back some of the impact that nature has in real life.” His bronze sculpture, Diggin’ In, resembles a frozen,
stylized bolt of lightning as the rider struggles to control his bronc.
Jamie Burnes uses found and scouted materials to express the forms, strength and personalities of animals—as well as the whimsy of their maker. Combining natural and manmade materials, he emphasizes our connection to the natural world. In Bear Study, 2013, wood logs express the core energy of the bear and welded-steel forms express the potentially explosive strength of his haunches and forelegs. The tilt of its head expresses an almost playful curiosity.
Dan Friday is a Lummi glassmaker who honors the traditions of his Puget Sound cultural heritage. He says, “I typically work with simple themes and forms, and often employ subtle silhouettes when making my totems. It is a pleasure seeing inanimate objects taking on a life of their own.” His bear forms often incorporate the ancient techniques of Venetian glass makers he learned through his work with some of the great contemporary glass makers in the American Northwest. Bears are prominent in the myths and rituals of many tribes. His totem, Rainbow Bear, recalls the clay Zuni fetish sculptures with a line beginning at the mouth, called the heartline, and symbolic of spirit and life.
In the pages of this special collector’s focus, readers will find Western sculpture from some of the finest artists in the country, as well as information on the galleries and museums that represent them.
Bronze sculptor Bill Nebeker has been a member of the Cowboy Artists of America since 1978 and his work is inspired by the historic American West along with contemporary ranch life. He explains that his sculpture Double Trouble “depicts a breed of cowboy I admire greatly. His job is to gather up and lead in wild renegade steers or maverick cows. Maverick cows have not been caught or branded. Renegade steers have a brand and earmarks which show he was caught, but escaped years ago and grew wild and very large...i sculpted this, to tell the story of these special friends of mine who capture these wild bovines that roam rugged mountains and brush country of the Southwest.”
In Charles M. Russell: The Women in
His Life and Art, the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, draws attention to the women who influenced the artist and explores how he portrayed them in his painting and sculpture. Exhibition curator Emily Wilson describes, “In both Weapons of the Weak and Mountain Mother, Russell anthropomorphizes the wildlife subjects, playing to the universal instinct of a mother to protect her young. The models from which these bronzes were made were created from wax, clay, and mixed media; the branches themselves were bronzed from pieces of driftwood Russell picked up from the shore of his cabin on Lake Mcdonald in Glacier National Park.” The exhibition remains on view at the museum through September 30 before moving on to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West in Arizona.
Joe Cajero Sr. of Cajero Fine Arts says his work Oneness was inspired by a presentation from philosopher and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer. The sculpture, he says, “is my simple translation of a quote I heard in during presentation, given by Jesus in his conversation with God. Jesus asks, ‘God may I know You, as I knew You, even before my beginning.’
This piece was inspired and created from the internal dialogue that took place during the exploration of that asking.” Cajero was commissioned to create the piece for Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Deselms Fine Art represents the sculpture of Chris Navarro, who says about his 20% Chance of Flurries, “For me, this image of a cowboy on a horse saving a young calf embodies the test of endurance that highlights the best qualities of the men who live in the West. They face hard conditions and take life as it comes.”
“My inspiration to create wildlife art is my love of animals,” says Texas-based sculptor Douglas B. Clark. “I enjoy watching what makes each animal unique and trying to capture that. My goal as an artist is to share that love through my art.”
Raymond Gibby of Gibby Bronze sees a common message with his bronze works Restoration and Return of the White Buffalo. “The moving from very loose and undefined to detailed and realistic represents how the buffalo as a species were almost lost entirely and how the have journeyed to the point of regaining strongholds of population again,” Gibby says of Restoration.“the Return of the White Buffalo follows a similar theme but this has to do more with the character of humanity. When there are humans present
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1. Medicine Man Gallery, Diggin’ In, 2012, ed. 18, bronze,13½ x 22¼ x 4¼", by Ed Mell. 2. Gerald Peters Gallery, Bear Study, 2013, steel,133/8 x 217/8 x 10½", by Jamie Burnes. 3. Blue Rain Gallery, Rainbow Bear, furnace-sculpted glass, 7 x 13½ x 3", by Dan Friday. 4. Mclarry Fine Art, The Wreck, bronze, ed. 15, 22 x 27¾ x 14½", by Paul Moore.
5. Bill Nebeker, Double Trouble, bronze, 29 x 27 x 16" 6. Bill Nebeker, Three Amigos, bronze, 18 x 18 x 8" 7. Bill Nebeker, Kiowa Iron Tipped Medicine Arrows, bronze, 13 x 12 x 15" 8. C.M. Russell Museum, Mountain Mother, modeled 1924, cast ca. 1928, bronze, 6½ x 13¾ x 5", by Charles M. Russell (1864-1926). Petrie Collection, Denver, Colorado. 9. Susan Kliewer, Crow Fair Shawl Dancer, bronze, 25 x 16 x 9"
10. C.M. Russell Museum, Weapons of the Weak, modeled 1921, cast ca. 1922-28, bronze, 5¾ x 57/8 x 5½", by Charles M. Russell (1864-1926). Petrie Collection, Denver, Colorado. 11. Susan Kliewer, Healing Dress Dancer, bronze, 25 x 10 x 7½" 12. Richard Lee Tucker, Jack, bronze, 21 x 24 x 13" 13. Raymond Gibby, Restoration, ed. of 20, bronze, 9 x 32 x 10" 14. Joe Cajero Sr., Oneness, bronze, monumental