Sculptor expands 'sacred circle'

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— Boom, boom, boom, boom, the drums pounded.

Though Ute prayer sessions usually are exclusive to tribal members, every so often an outsider is invited to participate. Patrick Zabel was honored to accept an invitation.

Zabel, like others in his family, is a sculptor. When word reached him about a Ute memorial to be built at Rich Weiss Park in Steamboat Springs, he wanted to contribute with a sculpture.

Zabel said he always has been intrigued by the American Indian culture and the way its people view the Earth as sacred. At the time, Zabel was reading "The Tracker," a book about Native American spirituality, by Tom Brown Jr.

Zabel got in touch with Northern Ute Tribe Public Relations Director Larry Cesspooch. After meeting with him on several occasions, exchanging gifts and having dinner with each other's families, Cesspooch said he knew Zabel wanted to sit in on a prayer session and invited him.

The Ute tribe prayer sessions are held in a tepee, called a "sweat lodge," similar to a sauna, water is poured over hot rocks for steam. Zabel sat with the tribe in a circle near Fort Duchesne, Utah, while Northern Utes pounded their drums and sang in their native tongue.

Zabel accompanied those in the circle in praying to the Great Spirit. Zabel is a Christian, but he said he believes God and the Great Spirit are one and the same.

"The Utes call him Grandfather," Zabel said. "I'll call him Grandfather, too. I have no problem with that. He is the grandfather of all life."

Zabel said the drumbeat coupled with the intense heat allowed him and others to focus and block out life's distractions. The prayer session is a cleansing experience.

Zabel shares a common interest with American Indians in respect to the Earth, which is part of his "sacred circle": God, Western heritage and "roots with Mother Earth."

He incorporates the circle into all in which his sculptures -- the most obvious being the Western heritage.

Zabel's career includes stints as a heavy equipment operator in the Navy, the minister of a church, a professional bronco rider on the rodeo circuit, owner of a Texas high-rise window washing service and a theology scholar. But though his jobs have taken him around the world, introducing him to thousands of people, he has found his niche in solitude.

As a child, yearning for the cowboy lifestyle and while watching his uncle, Curtis Zabel, sculpt realistic figurines of native wildlife and Western images, Patrick Zabel took an interest in sculpting.

Now Zabel has taken on clay sculpting full time, at least eight hours a day.

He has been working on several projects at once, including an elk sculpture, a sculpture of cowboys and their horses and a wall-mountable motif of mountain goats and rams.

He works in his quiet studio-converted garage, where sounds of nature and American Indian music add to the earthy, Western vibe of the room.

People will have an opportunity to see Zabel working in his studio Aug. 9 as part of the third annual Steamboat Studios Art and Cultural Tour.

Sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, the event offers participants on a self-guided tour of artists' working studio spaces, as well as cultural and historical points of interest from Steamboat to Hayden along Twentymile Road.

After eating breakfast and meeting a tour guide at the Eleanor Bliss Center for the Arts at the Depot, participants will be able to view the artists' studios beginning at 9 a.m.

Featured artists are potters, painters and sculptors, including four other Hayden artists: glassblower Brad Smith, weaver Lauretta Davidson-Monger (featured in the July 9 Hayden Valley Press), blacksmith Dal Leck (featured in the July 23 Hayden Valley Press) and fine artist Lana McFadden (featured in the July 30 Hayden Valley Press).

Zabel got serious about sculpting within the past three years.

"I realized you get out of it what you put into it," Zabel said. "So, now it's my top priority. Sometimes you just got to believe. I had to make myself feel confident to take the chance. I'm willing to go on the road with my art now, because I think in the end, it will pay off."

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