After nearly a century of anonymity, the City of Denver will officially credit Colorado bronze artist Alexander Phimister Proctor for the creation of two major sculptures in Denver’s Civic Center Park.
The pair of works depicting quintessential Old West images -- a cowboy, a Native American rodeo rider and bucking broncos -- have maintained their place in the Park since the early 1920s.
But, unlike artwork displayed in museums, up until this week, these monuments, entitled “Broncho Buster” (an idiosyncratic, early 20th century spelling of "bronco") and “On the War Trail,” didn’t have any sort of identification acknowledging Proctor as the artist who created them.
The Alexander Phimister Proctor Foundation, a museum outside Seattle devoted to preserving the sculptor’s legacy, and Denver Arts & Venues, a city agency responsible for public venues and cultural events, will unveil bronze plaques at an official ceremony recognizing the provenance of the sculptures.
Other prominent pieces by the sculptor include “The Mustangs” on the University of Texas Austin campus and a series of four statues in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. entitled “The Q Street Buffalo.”
According to Thomas Brent Smith of the Denver Art Museum, who curated the museum’s “The American West in Bronze” exhibition, Proctor is regarded as one of the most important American sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th century.
During that time period, Proctor had a major monument commissioned in nearly every major city across the country, including Washington D.C., Chicago and Austin, Texas.
In 1917, the Mayor of Denver, Robert Speer, commissioned Proctor to create the pair of equestrian monuments for the City Park.
Obtaining plaques with the artist’s name engraved on them for these sculptures is the first step towards the goal of obtaining public attribution for all 27 Alexander Phimister Proctor monuments across the country.
Laura Proctor Ames, the great granddaughter of the sculptor and the force behind the attribution campaign, says it’s common for public art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries to lack public attribution.
“These artists have pieces in some of the most prestigious museums around the world,” Ames says. “Yet they are not attributed publicly on these monuments that are in university campuses and parks.”
Despite growing up near Seattle, Washington, Ames says she was surrounded by her great grandfather’s art during her childhood and remembers hearing tales of his life in Colorado.
She and her father, Phimister Church Proctor, are co-founders of the Seattle Foundation and Museum. Established in 1997, the organization houses a large collection of Alexander Phimister Proctor memorabilia, which Ames’ father spent the majority of his life collecting.
Ames says she and her father approached Denver Arts & Venues to request attribution to Proctor on the monuments in January.
Rudi Cerri, public art administrator for Denver Arts & Venues, says he and his colleagues had actually been thinking about adding an attribution for some time.
“We always knew at some point we would change the current plaques,” Cerri says. “But we decided to move forward with it when Laura approached. We worked very closely with her and went through numerous drafts of what we wanted to include on the plaques.”
According to Ames, the Proctor family moved by covered wagon to Denver in 1871, when the artist, then a schoolboy, was 11.
“He spent his childhood in Denver, hunting and playing baseball in Civic Center Park, right where the monuments are,” Ames says. “He was a genuine Western and really loved Colorado.”
The artist shared close relationships with his subjects.
The cowboy atop “Broncho Buster” is a bronzed rendering of a notable Pendleton Rodeo round-up rider named Bill Ridings, who went by “Slim.”
Ames says the two were close and Proctor even posted bond for the cattleman in order to finish the piece.
“While Proctor was modeling and sculpting the ‘Broncho Buster,’ Slim was arrested on a charge of horse thievery and was shipped back to Oregon where he was jailed,” Ames says. “Proctor had to appeal to the sheriff to allow Slim to leave jail so he could finish posing -- at least until the sculpture was finished.”
Ames hopes that, after Tuesday, other artist foundations will be inspired to petition for attributions.
“We’re hoping to start a trend,” Ames says.
The unveiling is June 24 starting at 5 p.m. It is followed by presentations from Laura Proctor Ames and Phimister Church Proctor as well as a lecture by Thomas Bent Smith, who curated “The American West in Bronze” exhibition for the Denver Art Museum.