The Trail’s End sculpture project is taking shape, literally. Five Sedalia committee members went to Salt Lake City last month to meet with artist Michael Wilson, see the progress on the statues, and tour the Adonis Foundry where the bronze sculptures will be completed. The travelers included Dale and Liz Yelton, Dr. Doug Kiburz and Greg and Kathleen Boswell, and to say they were impressed would be an understatement.
Wilson and his agent Adam Warner, who owns a gallery in Park City, Utah, met the team and escorted them to the storage units/garage Wilson has rented to use as a studio. As he pushed the button on the garage door opener, the 12-foot door rose and the nearly completed clay image of a cowboy on a horse was revealed. The moment of stunned silence was ended by a collective, “Wow!”
Wilson had the one-and-a-quarter life-size cowboy about 95 percent finished, but with a little collaboration from the committee members, he will be making some slight changes and additions. For example, the same brand as on the horse will be added to the cowboy’s chaps, a pistol will be on his belt, and a pocket will be included on the vest.
The cowboy has his head turned slightly to the right as he checks on the calf the dog is guiding back to the rest of the herd. The horse knows there is food and water waiting at the end of the ride and he is anxious to get there, and his face shows it.
“I wanted to show that the horse had some life left in him at the end of the trail,” Wilson said.
At the foundry, director Denny Jenks explained how the whole process of creating bronze statues takes place. High-tech machines cut blocks of styrofoam into the basic shapes the artists want to work with, and then the clay is added. Wilson has had the foam cut since July and has worked the clay nearly every day since. He began with one thousand pounds of firm clay and has used almost 900 pounds in just the cowboy piece.
Once the clay figure is done, the foundry artists carefully cut it apart in manageable chunks, create the molds from those pieces, and then pour the molten bronze into the molds. After they are cooled, the pieces are welded back together. At this stage, chemicals and heat are used to add color to the bronze, instead of paint which would have a very limited lifespan. All of the seams are carefully buffed to conceal them, and the project gets a protective coating to seal it for years of outdoor conditions.
Wilson has worked on other big projects, including one that traveled all the way to Florida, but he considers this his most important effort.
“The Florida project last year has gotten so much attention; I have reporters calling all the time,” Wilson said. “But I think this is the best equestrian ever. It is a celebration of a way of life.”
He also feels like he knows this cowboy and what he has gone through on the nearly three-month-long trail ride. He added stubble to the face because there were few opportunities to shave, and he created a patched place on the knee of the chaps. His riffle is handy but not out as if the cowboy is concerned about being attacked. And the cowboy is smiling as he knows the trek has been completed successfully.
Both Wilson and Warner plan to visit Sedalia when the bronze pieces are delivered and set in place, which will happen some time in 2014.
Phase one of the fundraising efforts has been reached and the cost of the bronze pieces are paid for. Now, phase two is under way to cover the cost of the repairs to the cattle car and engine and for the water tower and windmill that will complete the site. Many local contractors are donating their labor and materials for the site development, so that saves on the overall costs. Volunteers are working to rebuild the train pieces, which also helps to keep down the costs.
The northeast corner of the Missouri State Fairgrounds, where the monument will be installed, will require tons of dirt to bring the area up to the desired height, and once the decorative retaining wall is installed, a sidewalk will be made to connect the parking area behind the plaza to the walkway around the sculptures. Bricks to line the sidewalk are being sold so that donors can honor friends and family with their names engraved as part of the monument. This is the opportunity for the public to get involved in a lasting memorial that will attract national attention. –Submitted.