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Greg Kelsey

Spiritual Connection

64  ART of the WEST • March/April 2017

Above: Momma’s Not Bluff ’n, bronze, 35˝ Long “On occasion, cowboys have to rope and brand calves, with mother cows in the mix. A protective mamma can have a different idea about the situation. Sometimes she’ll just throw you a bluff, and sometimes she won’t be bluff ’n at all, and a wreck is born.” Opposite Page: Pretty Handy, bronze, 12˝ high “Several years ago now, when my daughter Lauren was out helping me gather our longhorns, I told her I had to ride ahead to set some gates at the pens. I asked her if she could finish driving the cows to the corrals by herself, and she said she had it handled. I looked back, as I rode off, and noticed how pretty she was and just how handy she had become—a confident horsewoman with stock sense. She was ‘pretty handy.’ This piece has come to depict the strength and beauty of young women of the West. It romantically captures the empowerment and historical significance of the modern cowgirl.”

By Mary Nelson


iding, roping, and sculpting are the things Greg Kelsey’s dreams are made of. Deep inside this sculptor beats the heart of a cowboy. He is the intrepid soul who likes to stand on the precipice of the future and hurl himself headlong over the edge to pursue his dreams. If it doesn’t always look real pretty, chalk it up to opportunities—not challenges—that have served well him during his 45 years on this earth. From childhood on, Kelsey was drawn to the natural world, coming from a long line of ranchers and rural dwellers. He also was drawn to art at a young age, thanks to his mother, a public school art teacher whose passion for art drove her to earn a Master’s Degree. Kelsey often accompanied her to the University of Houston in El Paso, Texas, where he haunted the art school hallways and museums the way most kids skulk around amusement parks. His mother eagerly brought art to high schools in Texas and Oklahoma, and the family moved often, following her jobs and relocating as necessary. Kelsey has lost track of how many places they lived, but thinks he was the new kid in school in 12 to 17 rural towns. As a result, Western rural surroundings are fodder for his representational sculptures of cowboys, Indians, and their horses and cattle. As a cowboy, Kelsey has a ranch, where he raises and trains a small herd of longhorn cows and horses, which serve as models for his sculptures. He and his 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, also compete in rodeos. The balance of fine art and rodeoing and ranching feeds his spirit, with the latter two driving his artistic direction. March/April 2017 • ART of the WEST 

The Adventures of Dumbo & Jackass, bronze, 8 .75˝ high and 12.25˝ high “The political atmosphere and crazy state of politics in America was the impetus behind this set of bookends. Political satire from the studio seems always to be relevant.”

“I’ve taken on this life to delve into my surroundings, which influence what I want to create,” Kelsey says. “I get to live the life of a cowboy, and I immerse myself in the subject matter that I live.” This idyllic life almost didn’t come to pass. In 1989, when he graduated from Clint High School in El Paso, the next natural step in Kelsey’s mind was dentistry. He has been blessed with perfect teeth, while his sister was not, and he wanted to do something that could help people. Dentistry seemed like a good fit. Kelsey was good with his hands and believed orthodontia might just be his calling, so he studied orthodontia for two years at the University of Texas at El Paso. During that time, he apprenticed as a lab technician with Ed Sullivan, ART of the WEST • March/April 2017

who was grooming the young man to take over his successful orthodontics business. Kelsey likes to say that he cut his teeth in sculpting by, well, sculpting teeth. One afternoon, Sullivan invited Kelsey for a visit to his home. The doctor, an art enthusiast, had a wax sitting on the porch, the initial stages of a sculpture he had in the works. That encounter with artistic sculpting turned Kelsey’s belief that orthodontia was his calling upside down. “I saw that sculpture, and I was hooked,” he says. “I realized I didn’t want to be an orthodontist. I wanted a nice life, but not as an orthodontist. I had all the tools to be [an orthodontist], but I had all the tools to be something else, too. At that time it didn’t resonate with me to be an artist.”

Although he stayed in school, taking just enough classes to keep his schooling alive, Kelsey “went to rodeoing and working ranch jobs. I was avoiding my calling by taking on a rural cowboy kind of life instead of art,” he explains. “I was longing to understand and live the human condition that it is to be a rural cowboy.” Eventually, rodeoing led Kelsey to Durango, Colorado. The artistic energy he sensed in that town was like a siren song to his artistic muse, drawing him inexorably into recognizing that his true calling was art. Surrounded by the natural beauty he found in the Four Corners area in Colorado and New Mexico inspired him to tap into his own creativity, and he enrolled as a fine art major at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

Ready To Rope, bronze, 13˝ Long Roping cattle have a unique ‘framiness’. That form lent itself to an interesting sculptural study. And I enjoy the sport of team roping more than any other pastime. Around here we are always ready to rope.

Smells Like Spring, bronze, 23˝Long “Every year, after calving season is over and planning begins for the next year’s calf crop, bulls are turned out with the cows. The sweet smell of spring and all it entails for the future is in the air.”

March/April 2017 • ART of the WEST

Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, bronze, 56˝ Long “Chief Ignacio Ouray Walkara ruled the Spanish Trail as a slave trader, raider, and famed horse thief. He made treaties with Brigham Young and traded with Jim Bridger at Fort Bridger and, in doing so, helped to facilitate westward expansion and shape Western history. His legendary exploits and piercing gaze earned him the title Hawk of the Mountains.”

“I was inclined to pursue art, because the way that your mom gives you a hug is the way art feels to me,” Kelsey says. Even then, three-dimensional art wasn’t a thought, at least not until he took a sculpture class. That was all he needed to set his career trajectory on that art form. Because there was only one sculpture class available at Fort Lewis College during the ‘90s, Kelsey left school and searched for mentors to help him gain the skill and technique to sculpt. Renowned sculptor Edward J. Fraughton became a driving force and major influence for the young artist. Kelsey landed on Fraughton’s doorstep in 2000, after a brief telephone call, and was met at the doorway with this greeting: “If you want to know how good you are, go home and ask your mother.” Kelsey had met his match, and the two men bonded immediately. Fraughton somehow knew Kelsey for who he was, and “he could reach a hardcore cowboy soul,” Kelsey recalls. “If I can say I learned anything from anybody, I can say I learned it from that man.” In Kelsey’s eyes, Fraughton is a modern, living renaissance ART of the WEST • March/April 2017

man, a genius, pushing his artistic boundaries. From the celebrated sculptor, Kelsey learned to master his art by being able to see in his mind the three-dimensional finished product. From there, he could deconstruct the pieces to create fully formed and fully realized anatomical works of representational sculpture. “I would visit with [Fraughton] as much as I

“I was inclined to pursue art, because the way that your mom gives you a hug is the way art feels to me.”

Sundance & the Wild Bunch Hit the Union Pacific, bronze, 35˝ Long “I live in the old stomping grounds of the Wild Bunch. My neighborhood of the Four Corners was a known hideout for the gang. Unsigned banknotes from the Wilcox holdup appeared in Monticello, Utah, and in Durango, Mancos, and Cortez, Colorado. Scenes from the Hollywood Movie ‘Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid,’ which most of us have seen, were filmed around here. The Wilcox holdup became one of the West’s most famous train robberies. The tale resonated with me; the dynamic action of the story was perfect material for a sculpture.”

could, while I worked for him in his foundry,” Kelsey says. “He’d talk with me and tell me things. He understood who I was. I absorbed his instruction.” Eventually, Kelsey and his wife Terah, whom he had met while in college and married in 1996, bought land in Colorado, where they live today, and Kelsey backed off from rodeoing. The birth of their daughter Lauren in 1999 brought home the reality that the reckless life of a rodeo rider didn’t exactly meld with being a dad. So he focused on sculpting, making a name for himself, while Terah tended to the business details that come with being an artist. Son Wilder Colt was born in 2011, bringing with him the miniature

heart of a cowboy, which has had an impact on Kelsey’s artistic vision, something Kelsey says resulted in a spiritual and artistic growth. Reflecting on his 20-some-year career as an artist, Kelsey says art has provide him with a spiritual journey. “The biggest changes have actually been that with age comes a different perspective on what you perceive. I’m blessed with starting early, in my twenties, and being able to look at that body of work from my twenties to my forties isn’t something most artists get to do.” Kelsey’s spiritual connection to his subject matter is his inspiration. He’s quick to point out, however, that “a cowboy’s spirit is a cowboy’s spirit, but I don’t want to pigeonhole

myself into just sculpting cowboy things, because I do have a classical upbringing. I’ve chosen the Western genre because of where I’ve chosen to live and what I’ve chosen to do as a grownup.” The life of a Western artist is Kelsey’s chosen path—an avocation and vocation all rolled into one. He has a deep connection to the cowboys, Native Americans, and animals featured in his art, and doing what he was called to do has made him bold in his reach. The life he has chosen has, in his estimation, made him a blessed man. Mary Nelson is a writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. March/April 2017 • ART of the WEST

Art of The West March/April Issue - Greg Kelsey  
Art of The West March/April Issue - Greg Kelsey