In the winter of 1913 – 1914, the National Academy of Design hosted its annual winter exhibition which included 119 representative works by American sculptors. Proctor exhibited one bronze, a small cast of Buffalo for the Q Street Bridge in Washington, D.C.1 For this he received the praise of art critic William Walton in Scribner’s Magazine as having contributed one of the truly “modern additions to the repertory of art.”2 The Buffalo was perhaps the artist’s prime achievements as a sculptor of animals. Its powerful simplicity was indeed a modern statement and with the vibrant majesty and monumental proportions of even this small Buffalo, it proved how far Proctor had come since his first sentimental efforts with his two versions of the Fawn twenty years earlier.
Yet when Proctor visited the National Academy show and later read the Walton review, he must have been drawn to an especially vital western bronze by California artist Joseph Mora. It was called Fanning a Twister [Fig. 1] and it embodied something his Buffalo lacked in profound measure. Mora’s work was all action and spirit, all energy and dynamism. Unlike Proctor’s Buffalo with its static grandeur, Mora’s little bronze brimmed with ebullience. Proctor must have wondered what it would be like to return to the West, as he had so often done over the years, but this time with the intent not of hunting wild animals but of bringing the contemporary human elements of the western scene to life through his art. The cowboy, having been celebrated in sculpture since 1893 with Proctor’s Cowboy plaster monument at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and in 1895 with Frederic Remington’s masterpiece, The Broncho Buster, was the perfect theme. Proctor had no doubt seen that latter work in the New York showroom windows at Tiffany’s and probably even knew of Charles Russell’s explosive 1911 sculpture of the same subject, A Bronc Twister, which was displayed in the shop of Theodore Starr on Fifth Avenue. But neither of these sculptors was currently showing at the National Academy, and neither was an official academician like Proctor. Mora was likely the most logical inspiration for Proctor. Now, Proctor surely concluded, the subject as well as Mora’s pose needed his touch. Somehow he would have to find a way to lend, afresh, his hand to the cowboy’s interpretation.
By the next time he saw one of Mora’s bronco sculptures, one called Scratching a Twister in the fine art pavilion of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Proctor had fulfilled his wish and produced his own bucking horse and rider.3 During a visit to Oregon’s Pendleton Roundup the previous summer, Proctor had embarked on a bucking horse sculpture with his own mix of powerful aesthetic design and stylistic restraint. It was elegant, graceful, and controlled, yet spirited as well. He had suffered some false starts that fall and even a studio fire that destroyed the first of his cowboy models, but with perseverance, he was back in the Northwest the next summer with what local newspapers referred to as six bronze castings (although they were probably plasters) of western subjects including one that he had copyrighted under the title of Buckaroo.4 The first showing appeared in Seattle at the Washington State Art Association galleries.5 Proctor then displayed the works in the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Edwards of Portland, where his cowboy sculpture was singled out as an exceptional tour de force and the representation of a national icon. The sculpture was “full of verve and action, both horse and man typically American, typically Western,” wrote the Morning Oregonian. Yet even as the sculptor demonstrated a primary interest in the “expression of action,” the reporter continued, “he never loses the rare sense of decorative beauty which is characteristic of his more monumental works.”6 When a plaster cast of the piece [Fig. 2] was sent to Pendleton in late July 1915, a local newspaper boasted that it would someday soon be converted into a monument for that city.7 Unfortunately, that was not to be, but according to one of the local papers, the plaster model that had “created a furore [sic] in art circles” in Seattle and Portland had been well enough received to encourage the artist to send the plaster east to be cast in bronze.8
It is thought that the plaster was shipped in August to the Gorham Co. Founders in Providence, Rhode Island. There, according to the company’s records, a singular sand-cast bronze was made and completed by mid-September.9 What is thought to be this initial bronze, or one quite like it, is marked with a set of letters, QACQ and a boxed-in symbol, “G/she wolf/C” [Figs. 3 and 4], which denotes an early cast. It was sent back to Oregon in early November where, with great fanfare, the first Buckaroo bronze was exhibited in Pendleton.10 The statue did not rest on its pedestal for long, however. Such was the enthusiasm for this bronze masterpiece that locals and supporters from across the state pressured Proctor to forward it immediately to San Francisco to adorn the galleries of the Oregon Pavilion of the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Contending in a headline that it “Typifies Possibilities of Western Art,” the Portland Oregonian reported that the Buckaroo bronze had, on November 12, been “unveiled in the art room” of the Oregon Pavilion. It proved, for Proctor at least, that the West held fresh possibilities for his art. He was present to watch the bronze emerge from beneath the drape of an American flag, and he then offered complimentary remarks about how Oregon had served him as muse. It was, he said, “an artist’s country. It is the natural haunt of creators.”11 With this comment, Proctor positioned himself as a true creative son of the West. No subject could have done this more effectively than a bronze rider of wild horse flesh.
The records of the Gorham Co. Founders suggest that the plaster for the Buckaroo was returned from Providence to New York City, either to the Gorham showroom there or to Proctor’s East 51st Street New York studio. In the meantime, using his clay model, Proctor evidently responded to what he foresaw as a stirring demand and produced a second plaster to be used by the Roman Bronze Works in Queens, New York. The resulting new castings were slightly different than the Gorham piece. In the new Roman Bronze Works castings, the left hand of the rider is generally free from the horse’s mane, there is a hole visible in the mane and the tail does not connect with his rump. (see Figs. 5 and 7) The Roman Bronze Works ledgers record that in 1916 and 1917, no fewer than seven castings were made.12 One of those early Roman Bronze Works castings, produced using the lost-wax rather than the sand-cast method, was ordered as a special presentation piece from the artist to his old Portland friend and promoter John G. Edwards (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT). Edwards had been a legendary cattleman and sheep rancher in Wyoming and eastern Oregon and, in his later years, was himself devoted to painting and sculpting. The Proctor bronze reflected Edwards’s love of art and his self-image as an adventuresome man of the West.13 Another early lost-wax casting was made for a group of citizens from Pendleton. [Fig. 5] They considered the Buckaroo the quintessential symbol of their city and the West. As such, they regarded it as the perfect gift for one of the city’s heroes, Charles Samuel Jackson, a pioneer newspaper man from Pendleton who had served as publisher of the Eastern Oregonian for twenty years before moving to Portland in 1902 to found the Oregon Journal. The presentation was made in January 1917. In gratitude, Jackson wrote that the city representatives “could not have selected a finer implement with which to emblazon upon my heart the good will of Pendleton.”14
It is not known which foundry’s casting Proctor took with him to Denver in 1917 when he attended William F. Cody’s funeral and, through his wife, fortuitously connected with the city’s mayor, Robert Walker Speer.15 What is known is that Speer commissioned Proctor to turn the Buckaroo into a heroic-sized bronze monument for Denver’s new Civic Center and that the artist chose to enlarge the Gorham model and use the Gorham Co. Founders for casting the monument.
It was titled Broncho Buster and dedicated in 1920. To illustrate how open Proctor was with regard to his selection of foundries and how he liked to spread the work around yet still get the most affordable castings possible, the production for the companion Denver monument, On the War Trail, was assigned to the Roman Bronze Works foundry in Queens. It was dedicated in 1922.
The Buckaroo was a favorite piece for one of Proctor’s major patrons, a frequent hunting companion from the early teens and Standard Oil Company president, George DuPont Pratt. [Fig.6] Between 1916 and 1932, Pratt commissioned at least three bronze castings of the Buckaroo from Proctor, two of them Roman Bronze Works castings and at least one from Gorham. An early Roman Bronze Works casting, now in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is specially marked, on the base, “CAST FOR GEO. D. PRATT / BY A.P.P.” [Fig. 7] One other Roman Bronze Works bronze of the Buckaroo, ordered by Pratt for the Boy Scouts of America, is in the collections of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Pratt ordered more of these castings from Proctor to be manufactured by Gorham, as indicated by a surviving plaster model which is marked on one side of the base, “CAST FOR GEO. D. PRATT / A.P.P.” (Buffalo Bill Center of the West). [Fig. 8] Pratt also purchased at least one other casting from the Gorham Co. Founders, which he donated in 1932 to his alma mater, Amherst College, and is now in the collection of the Mead Art Museum. [Fig. 8] It was cast in lost wax under subcontract by Eugene Gargani & Sons.16 The arrangement with Gorham lasted until 1934, and at least one casting, now located at the Denver Art Museum, is thought to have been the result of that agreement. [Fig. 9]
In 1935 Proctor placed an order for another Buckaroo from Roman Bronze Works for a Christmas present to the art collector and philanthropist Ernest E. Quantrell of Bronxville, New York, from his family (The Rees-Jones Collection, Dallas, Texas). The casting of this latter bronze cost Proctor $210. In this case and that of Pratt’s Gorham casting the “sale price” was listed as $475, though Pratt’s casting was discounted to $332.50 and the Quantrell’s bronze cost his family $400.17 Pratt was a sufficiently loyal patron to garner a somewhat deeper discount.
A second, undated plaster model for this bronze exists [Fig. 10] that is thought to have come from the Roman Bronze Foundry. In it, the horse’s rump is an inch or more higher than in early castings and the reins are connected to the bridle near the throat of the horse rather than at the mouth. No life-time bronze castings from this plaster are known to exist today.
By Peter H. Hassrick
- National Academy of Design: Winter Exhibition (New York: National Academy of Design, 1913), 16.
- William Walton, “The Field of Art,” Scribner’s Magazine, 55 (May 1914), 666.
- The Official Catalogue of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (San Francisco: The Wahlgreen Company, 1915) lists and illustrates Mora’s bronze.
- For reference to the studio fire, see “Sculpture on Exhibit,” East Oregonian (November 16, 1914). The copyright had been filed from New York on July 8, 1815. Images of the works that were illustrated in the newspapers at the time appear to be depictions of plasters, not bronzes. See for example, “Sculptor Is Guest,” The Morning Oregonian (July 23, 1915).
- “Noted Sculptor Exhibiting in Seattle,” [Seattle] Post-Intelligencer (July 21, 1915).
- “Sculptor Is Guest,” [Portland] The Morning Oregonian (July 23, 1915).
- “Famous Statue to Be Exhibited Today,” East Oregonian (July 29, 1915). The sculpture, referred to clearly as a plaster cast, was shown at the Frazier Book Store in Pendleton. The other newspaper in Pendleton referred to the work as a plaster also, “To Exhibit ‘Buckaroo’,” [Pendleton] Tribune (July 29, 1915).
- “To Exhibit ‘Buckaroo’,” Pendleton Tribune (July 29, 1915).
- Samuel Hough, “Report on Gorham Foundry Casting QACQ, A. Phimister Proctor’s ‘Buckaroo’,” an undated record for Buckaroo, no. 8.2.1.
- “‘Buckaroo’ on Exposition,” East Oregonian (November 2, 1915).
- “Oregon Sculpture Is Seen by Public,” Portland Oregonian (November 12, 1915).
- Roman Bronze Works Archives, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX, ledger 2, p. 67 and ledger 5, p. 308.
- A biographical sketch appeared in K.W. Fitzgerald, “Sheep King: John Edwards Wills Wool Fortune to Oregon,” Oregonian (April 7, 1946).
- “C.S. Jackson Gives Characteristic Thanks for Present of ‘Buckaroo’,” East Oregonian (January 22, 1917).
- Peter H. Hassrick, Wildlife and Western Heroes: Alexander Phimister Proctor, Sculptor (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 2003), 192 – 193.
- See Janis Conner, “After the Model: Bessie Potter Vonnoh’s Early Bronzes and Founders,” in Julie Aronson, Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008), 244.
- Information from Proctor’s Account Book, 1930s, Proctor Archives, McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West.