November 30, 2019
By MJ Clark
There is one town in Wind River Country that can really call itself “monumental” — Lander. You’ll see it as soon as you hit town. No matter which end of Main Street (Highway 287) you arrive at, you will find a bronze monument within the first block. Then you’ll see another. And another.
A huge grizzly bear robbing a honey tree near the Museum of the American West; a pronghorn antelope by the One Shot Antelope Hunt headquarters; a leaping tiger in front of the high school; a bugling elk and an antelope on either side of the Pronghorn Lodge; “Lander Lil” the town’s famous prairie dog near the post office, and a herd of longhorn cattle coming down the hill leading into town. If you spend any time here, you’ll learn that almost all of them were cast at the town foundry: Eagle Bronze.
You may not think that a family-owned foundry in the middle of Wyoming would have a national impact, but some of the largest, most striking works of public art were cast or assembled here. Examples include the six, 22-foot long Carolina panthers gracing the Bank of America stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina by Todd Andrews; or the largest equestrian sculpture in the world “The Equestrian” that stands 36 feet tall in El Paso, Texas by John Sherrill Houser; or the two battling stallions by Arturo di Modica (the sculptor who did the Charging Bull on Wall Street) that are destined for installation in Dubai.
Fine art on tour at Eagle Bronze
Arrive at Eagle Bronze here on a Wednesday and you can join a tour of the foundry to see huge monuments and smaller bronzes in all phases of production.
Creating bronze sculpture is an art that hasn’t changed much over the past 6,000 years. Sure, there have been a few new developments, like the electric furnace that superheats the bronze to the melting point, but mostly things are still done the old fashioned way: by the hands of talented artisans.
Every bronze begins with an artist, an idea and a lot of clay. Once the artist has created his or her masterpiece, they take it to the foundry.
The foundry will make a mold of the clay sculpture and then use the mold to create a wax copy of the work. That wax copy is then coated with many layers of ceramic slurry until fully encased. Then the slurry-encased wax is heated in a furnace so that the wax is burnt out (which gives us the term ‘lost wax’), and the void left by the wax is filled with molten bronze. But at this point, the sculpture is only about half done.
The cooling ceramic-clad bronze is then taken outside and whacked with a sledgehammer to break up the ceramic and free the bronze. Then the metalsmith starts his work, removing the last stubborn bits of ceramic, welding the various pieces of the sculpture together, and working the surface to erase the welds.
When the bronze is fully assembled, it is sandblasted and then another artist, the patineur, applies chemicals that bond to the surface of the sculpture under a blowtorch and give the sculpture its surface coloration.
The final step is to put the smaller bronzes on a stone or wooden base. The larger bronzes are trucked to their final destination and installed.
Sculpture is all in the family here
Many of the artworks cast in bronze were created by members of one extended family, which also happens to own Eagle Bronze: the Paddlefords. Beverly Paddleford, the family matriarch, sculpted Lander Lil. Her father, Bud Boller, an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, created the One Shot’s antelope and was a nationally-known sculptor before passing on in 2012.
Beverly married her high school sweetheart, Monte, and together they raised four daughters, two of whom wed sculptors. The Paddlefords’ sculptors-in-law are Deak Dollard, who crafted the tiger in front of Lander Valley High School, and Ben Foster, who has bronzes installed in other towns. A third son-in-law, Matt Cobb, and his wife, Heather, the eldest of the four Paddleford daughters, both work at Eagle Bronze. The Paddleford’s fourth daughter, Erica, has followed in her mother’s artistic footsteps and creates beautiful twisted wire jewelry showcasing Wyoming-found gems and minerals. Erica’s artwork can be found at Eagle Bronze’s gallery and at Belles & Beaus boutique in Lander.
A stop at Eagle Bronze is a great activity when you visit Wind River Country. You never know which major work of art you’ll find under construction in the monuments building out back, and witnessing a fiery bronze pour is a wonderful way to warm up with a little culture on a snowy winter’s day! For more information, visit www.eaglebronze.com or call 307-332-5436.