Steamboat Springs Sandy Graves' sculptures of horses commanded my attention when I entered the Artists' Gallery of Steamboat during a First Friday Art Walk this spring. With long limbs and exaggerated dimensions, the sculptures were simultaneously haunting and soothing.
I wasn't the only one mesmerized by Graves' work. She was commissioned by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association to create a bronze sculpture for the Routt County Courthouse lawn in downtown Steamboat. The sculpture commemorates the Chamber's centennial.
Named "Steamboat Legacy," the life-size work features three children who look as though they could be the ones who live and play in any of our neighborhoods. The children are on a homemade teeter-totter, playing dress up. One girl is wearing an old mining hat with big work boots while another dons a cowgirl hat and boots complete with snowflake spurs. The small boy has on ski goggles and ski boots - they look just like my first pair of leather telemark boots.
The children's outfits tie into the theme of the sculpture and what it seeks to celebrate, Graves says.
"The mining hat is from the area of Hahn's Peak and Mount Harris, and the ski boots represent the industry at the time it came to Steamboat - same with the ranching clothing, it's just that cowboys never change."
Local businesses and individuals donated the nearly $80,000 it cost to complete the project. After putting out a call to artists for a bronze work of children representing the three major past and present industries in Steamboat - mining, skiing and ranching - the Chamber agreed to move forward with Graves' proposal.
"One of my favorite parts of the piece is that it shows the industrial nature of Routt County," Graves said. "The three kids are playing with what they found lying around - they found a board and put it on a rock to make their own teeter-totter."
Graves, 39, has taught art and Spanish at The Lowell Whiteman School for the past 15 years. She has direct ties to the three industries that have been so integral to Steamboat Springs.
"My husband is a ski coach, his father worked in the mining industry in Routt County, and his great-uncle homesteaded and ranched on Moonhill," she says.
As with any large bronze sculpture, it was a long process from conception to reality. After Graves finished the maquette - a sample of her idea in one-quarter size - and received final approval, she set about making the full-sized bronze. Not having a studio of her own, the local artists-owned gallery, Artists' Gallery of Steamboat, allowed her to use their back room for the project.
"Having all those artists there to advise, critique and support me has been invaluable," she said.
The artistic process has been a collaborative one. Chris Oar, a welder and friend of Graves', helped set the sculpture's rebar skeleton. Graves then sprayed the skeleton with foam to build up bulk before the clay was applied.
The piece was then shipped off to a foundry in Paonia, where a mold was created and the bronze was cast. Graves made several trips to Paonia during the process to ensure the integrity of the piece remained intact. With some help from Native Excavating to select the proper rock for the base of the teeter-totter, the sculpture was completed and ready for its early July unveiling.
The finished piece has succeeded in its goal, said Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.
"Our goal was to provide a gift to the community that honored our heritage and also, through the children, looks to our future," she said.
- Story by Danielle Skov
Photos by John F. Russell