Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mustang Project. How do you go about sculpting a monumental Mustang?

                          Photo copyright: RJWalter

  Part of the reason I love my job so much: it requires a great deal of time in the company of wild animals. Whenever we receive a sculpture commission, the first item on my agenda is research: this means days, weeks, or even months in the field. Yes, I could snap photos and be back in the studio in short order, but I am most concerned with coming to understand my subjects as thoroughly as possible. Not only do I want to understand nuances of their physical anatomy, I want to understand subtleties of their behavior, how they move, and even their individual personalities. 
    Having only glimpsed wild Mustangs prior to 2013, I knew I faced a steep learning curve. I immediately began volunteering at a local horse breeder's barn in order to spend time with horses, (Yes, that means lots of manure). Then in March, I took the first of four trips down to Legacy Mustang Rescue 
(www.ilovemustangs.orgoutside Charlottesville, VA.  Jamie and Craig Dodson gave me unparalleled access to their mustangs, and I learned a great deal.

                                                        Photo Copyright: RJWalter
    Finally in May I travelled to northern Wyoming to study free ranging Mustangs. My daughter, Becky and I concentrated our efforts on the McCullough Peaks herd - located on government land east of Cody, WY.  Here, the Mustangs thrive - largely due to careful guardianship by land manager Tricia Hatley, who works for the BLM. Tricia introduced us to three bands of Mustangs, and acquainted us with their history. She also showed us a few of the dirt tracks criss-crossing thousands of acres. Then we were on our own.
     Becky and I quickly adopted a technique our family has used in Africa with great success: we positioned ourselves far in front of the animals and simply let them come to us. By sitting quietly on the high desert in plain sight, we became both interesting and non threatening to the Mustangs. They approached out of curiosity,  and then largely ignored us. 

                                                           Photo copyright: RJWalter
  Spring was in the air, so stallions soon began rearing up with flailing hooves and chasing one another on all sides of us. This was exactly what I needed for my sculpture. It was exciting and absolutely fantastic! The only real distraction: the Mustangs soon ignored us so thoroughly that I sometimes had to move five or ten feet out of the way, to avoid being body-slammed or hit by flailing hooves. 
                                                            Photo copyright: RJWalter

We put in long hours each day, hiked many miles, ate a lot of PB&J sandwiches, drank gallons of water, and simply could not stop smiling. The Mustangs and the harsh landscape they inhabit thoroughly charmed us. We felt privileged to be there. After two weeks, Becky and I wanted nothing more than to stay in the high desert indefinitely; however, I needed to get back to Maryland in order to begin translating what I  had learned into sculpture. 

                                                           Photo copyright: RJWalter

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