Baxter Black: The horse sculptor
April 15, 2011
I wonder if he starts at the head?
I mean to sculpt a horse that will one day stand in front of the stockyard gate. Or does he picture in his mind the kind of horse it will be? Would he start at the hooves instead, one leg at a time, stroking, flexing, molding, making the limb yield to him until it feels just right? Right front or left, then gliding back, the skilled hand following the shoulder to the flank, to the stifle, hock, cannon, fetlock, pastern, finally pressing until the hind foot gives itself up and lets the sculptor have his way.
Then does he go to the head?
Surely he must. Like the masthead on a ship, a lookout in the crow’s nest, the face’s expression will be a clue as to what to expect from those powerful limbs that drive the beast through the picture in his mind. Does he envision tension, fear, suspicion, acceptance, trust, fury, devotion or resignation in those eyes, in his stance, in his nostrils?
Will he break and run?
Will the sculptor have to start again from the broken pieces? Using firm but gentle caresses until the nose, the neck, and the mane become smoothly connected. Across the back, over the rump, down the leg, his practiced touch puts the sculpture back together.
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Back to the head.
The halter, a piece of artwork in its own right, the rawhide plaiting climbing over the nose, tied on the left side, strong and commanding yet fragile as a reata. It establishes a palpable connection between sculptor and subject. Or, taking artistic license, does he go right to a bosal? He’s the sculptor, he can do what he wants! He is allowed to proceed to the blanket if he wishes, the soaking, the cinching and saddle. Maybe beef him up more, put him in a snaffle, shoot, why not set a rider on his back! After all, it is the sculptor that is responsible for the final result.
All these Charlie Russell thoughts went through my mind as I watched the horse trainer putting on a demonstration in the middle of the ring. We, the audience, studied and listened as he went through the motions explaining, in the language of the horse, how he was sculpting a new one from the disorganized four-legged collection of muscle and bone that stood before him in the arena now.
Hide and hair, or clay and wire? Ray Hunt or Frederick Remington? The casting and creation of a horse requires an eye for deception, a hand for communication, and a deep knowledge of what it takes to mold imagination into flesh and blood.