Lander is a fairly typical Wyoming town with a population of a little over 7500. But as soon as you enter town, you notice something different: there are an unusual number of large bronze sculptures including a magnificent one of a cowboy herding three long-horns as you enter the town from the East and North. Were you to look closely, you would discover there is even a horsefly on the hip of the horse the cowboy is riding.
Monte and Beverly Paddleford founded Eagle Bronze and Foundry in Lander in 1985. Beverly, an artist, was the daughter of a sculptor. One of her pieces, “Hope,” can be seen at www.hopemonument.com. As I understood it, thirty-five copies have been purchased for display around the country.
Monte, an engineer for Alcoa, saw the work Beverly’s father was doing casting his own work and saw the potential for a business.
We first visited Lander shortly after the company was founded and saw some of their work on the street or perhaps in a storage lot near the foundry. Passing through in 2000, we saw more of the work. So on impulse, we decided to visit the foundry this time.
The Paddlefords have a gallery in Lander and one at the foundry where one can see and purchase some of the smaller works. Also, one can call 307-322-5436 to schedule a tour. Not knowing that, we had not called. But Beverly, overhearing our conversation with one of their employees, offered us a short tour – it became a tour we are unlikely to ever forget.
Bronze statues have been cast since ancient times, but it is not an easy process. Even before entering the building, I was impressed with a statue of two deer side-by-side: the buck is up on one leg, his only support where the tail of the doe hits his chest and another leg touches hers. Getting fine detail in a statue is hard; putting heavy weight on delicate supports is very hard.
I will not attempt to describe the casting process in full detail but just give an outline: 1. An artist brings them the sculpture; 2. A mold is made of the sculpture; this often involves the need to cut the original into parts; 3. The mold is a negative impression and another positive impression is made inside the mold with wax; 4. The wax image is then coated with a sand and ceramic mixture to make another hard mold that will withstand heat (the mold includes tubes to feed in the bronze); 5. The wax is melted out; 6. The mold is heated and molten bronze poured in (the weight of the bronze used is nine times the weight of the wax); 7. The
mold is removed; 8. The bronze statue is sand-blasted and buffed; 9. Any patina the artist desires is added; and the product is finished. Any mistakes in this explanation can be attributed to my bad hearing (and memory) and not to Beverly.
Eagle Bronze Foundry clearly has established a reputation for excellent work. We saw photos of a gigantic horse now in the El Paso airport and the largest continuous sculpture in the world, a herd of cattle driven through the Texas countryside displayed in downtown Dallas. We saw a huge horse waiting completion by the same man who did the Wall Street Bull; it is to be one of three for places around the world including Dubai.
Beverly showed us a small model of what will be a 20×26 foot sculpture of stacks of books surrounded by children reading: it will go in front of the Artesia, New Mexico library. Later, we actually saw one of full-sized stacks of books almost ready to have a mold made. Eagle Bronze also supervises the installation of such huge pieces.
The entire tour was a wonderful unexpected experience. And then coincidence sprinkled a little sugar on our daily bread and butter: in conversation, it turned out that Monte and Beverly were married on the same day as we were forty-five years ago.