By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Bronze sculptor Robert Deurloo could live anywhere in the world, but he chooses Salmon, ID, as his home—a remote town of 3,000 people situated near the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. Within 10 miles of Deurloo’s front door, he can come face to face with mountain goats, moose, deer, elk, and wolves. And that’s not a bad place for one of the West’s well-known wildlife sculptors to reside. Reasonably priced models for his sleek, contemporary bronze pieces are plentiful and part of his everyday world. “I live in a county the size of a continent and it’s populated by only 7,000 people,” Deurloo says. “The nearest Wal-Mart is 140 miles away.”
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Deurloo is known for bringing a fresh artistic eye to bronze wildlife artworks, and his pieces often possess a certain charm. For example, in TAILIN’ BEHIND he portrays a lumbering baby elephant wrapping its trunk around its mother’s tail. The molten bronze pachyderms display Deurloo’s trademark sense of humor—one that is touching and subtle without being too cute. Today, Deurloo has galleries representing his works from Colorado to California and from Montana to New Mexico , and across the globe. His pathway to a sculpting career came later in life than for many fine artists and quite by chance. But the initial seeds were planted early.
Raised in Steamboat Springs , CO , Deurloo grew up surrounded by nature and with a dad who fully appreciated natural wonders. His father took the family camping in the mountains almost every weekend, and Deurloo grew up with a fondness for the outdoor life.
“I had no idea I wanted to be a professional artist someday. I wanted to be an Indian or an entomologist,” he recalls. As a youngster he was always good in science and math, and when he graduated from high school he was awarded a scholarship to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. “I knew I wanted to do something outdoors and in nature, so I became a mining engineer,” he says. “I always thought I didn’t have much in common with artists. I thought they were tutti-frutti.”
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His engineering career landed him a four-year stint in South America and then later work in Wyoming . One day in 1972, while in Cody , WY , he decided to visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center , where he saw artworks by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell for the first time.
A bronze buffalo by Russell impressed him in a way that surprised the mining engineer. “Since I couldn’t take the piece with me, I decide to see if I could make one,” Deurloo says matter-of-factly. His first stop was at an art supply store in Casper . There he inquired how he could get started on his mission to create a bronze buffalo of his own. The helpful shopkeeper told him to take a block of wax and carve the animal he desired. Deurloo followed the instructions, crafting first an antelope and then a buffalo.
Ever resourceful, the neophyte sculptor next went to the Yellow Pages to see where he could cast his piece. He called one foundry that only cast for industrial projects, but another helpful soul sent him to Art Castings of Colorado in Loveland . “A few months later, I got back a bronze antelope, and one thing led to another,” Deurloo says modestly.
Deurloo makes the transition sound easy, but in fact, for the next 25 years or so, he kept his day job and in his spare time built a sturdy foundation for his career as a sculptor. It wasn’t until 1998 that he left the mining industry to pursue a full-time career in fine art.
Today, a visitor to his studio can see Deurloo’s first bronze, the antelope—a reminder of how the sculptor’s style has changed over the years. Early on, Deurloo created traditional, rough-textured pieces, but gradually this style evolved into more contemporary bronze animals with a sleeker look and smoother textures. “I’m not trying to make realistic pieces where I portray every hair and feature,” Deurloo explains. “I am just trying to be true to the dimensions of the animals. It’s bronze casting that looks more like stone carving.”
Deurloo achieves the look of stone through his signature use of highly polished patinas. “The details are in the patinas, not the bronze,” he says. A combination of intense heat, acids, and minerals produce the polished and sometimes exotic finishes. And he is not afraid to experiment with color, creating everything from purple hippos to red-toned wart hogs.
Elizabeth Kimball, owner of Center Street Gallery in Jackson , WY , says Deurloo’s popularity and appeal is due in part to his special attention to the patinas. “He gets such rich colors and textures and there are so many variations,” Kimball says. “It seems like no two pieces are alike. Even though they are editions, each one feels unique.”
While inspiration comes from the immediate world around him, Deurloo’s artistic vision has also been influenced by a 2001 sojourn to Africa, where he had the opportunity to observe animals in the Serengeti, Tanzania ’s oldest national park. It is a place where zebras, gazelles, giraffes, and buffalo regularly pound the plains. And although Deurloo is proud of the bronze elephants and big cats that he sculpted based on his African experience, he says it is the ugly wart hog that captured his imagination. With its oversized head and rubbery snout, the wart hog isn’t a pretty animal, but when Deurloo watched in amazement as one stared down a lioness until the cat backed down, he became a huge fan.
The African trip was a life-changing experience for Deurloo. “You are observing nature in the wild as it was 100,000 years ago, when man was just a small part of the big picture instead of the dominant one. It is as God meant the planet to be. Today, it seems like man overpowers everything,” he says.
Every animal Deurloo creates, he has observed in the wild. Unlike other sculptors, he doesn’t sketch as part of his creative process. Most often, he says, he just begins a piece from “an image that is burned in my mind.”
Not one to work on a nine-to-five schedule, Deurloo prefers to work in what he calls “bursts.” “I cannot work the clay all day because my attention span is not that great,” he says. In between creative bursts, he may take a hefty break and do the paperwork that accompanies the business side of an artist’s life. Or on a pleasant summer day he may hop on his bike and take a spin. But he is also content to just observe the wildlife that surrounds him on a daily basis, from the deer that are welcome guests in his yard to the raccoons that slip through the pet door and devour the cat food.
These days, Deurloo says, he is a long way from thinking of artists as “tutti-frutti.” In fact, he concludes, “I now have to pinch myself every day to make sure I’m not dreaming, because life is so good as an artist.”
Featured in May 2008