By Margaret L. Brown
In an article this month on Frederic Remington’s famous bronze The Bronco Buster, Michael Duty describes the work as “a breakthrough piece not only for Remington but also for bronze sculpting and American art in general.” Before Remington tried his hand at sculpture, “no one had attempted such a delicate balance of intense action on a support as small as the horse’s hind legs,” says Duty.
Remington went on to create 20 other bronzes and was ever-inventive in portraying drama and energy. In The Buffalo Horse [see page 34], a buffalo collides with an Indian on horseback and sends the rider sprawling. Despite the mass and motion of this scene, the entire sculpture is supported only by the buffalo’s hooves and the Indian’s spear. Similarly, in The Cheyenne [at right], the horse’s hooves never touch the ground.
Remington’s facility with line, form, and design made such feats of balance appear effortless. But, of course, that wasn’t the case. The Bronco Buster, for example, took nearly a year to complete. He described the process as “a long work attended with great difficulty on my part.” Still, as Duty points out, the final result was worth the struggle, for Remington viewed the sculpture as the high point of his career.
Similarly, the works of the contemporary sculptors in this issue often belie the struggle and difficulty of their creation. When looking at Tim Cherry’s lazily floating otter or the graceful, flowing veil of Martha Pettigrew’s Water Carrier, it requires a leap of imagination to envision the physical work of shaping the clay, the noise and heat of the foundry. When viewing J. Chester Armstrong’s elegantly energetic stampeding horses, it’s hard to believe that he carved them from walnut using a roaring 16-inch chainsaw.
Cliff Fragua is known for his stylized images of Native American figures carved from alabaster, marble, and steatite. The hardest part of working with stone, says Fragua, is not breaking it. “Stone is actually quite fragile, but it can be cooperative once you find the secret of carving it.”
Like Remington, the sculptors featured this month are pushing the boundaries of their mediums, transforming mounds of clay, chunks of wood, and blocks of stone into works of fine art. As you view these works, contemplate the effort and ingenuity involved in such remarkable transformations.
Featured in July 1998