Sculptural art in the Western world is the most real of all art forms to create something lifelike out of mass. Large monuments capture the attention of the nation and have enlivened a controversy centered on the fine line between representation and assumed reality. Sculpture is the one form that can do this.
L. S. from Santa Barbara is curious about a cast metal sculpture of a Concord stagecoach, with drivers armed with rifles and six horses appearing to careen down an embankment. The title is "Flat Out for the Red River Station," while the artist is Michael Boyett. I was anxious to answer some of L.S.'s questions because sculptures, especially historic sculptures, are a hot topic.
Since ancient times, sculpture has captured our imagination because it is a form that occupies both mass and space. Humans are so accustomed to the world of mass and space that when looking at sculpture, we forget that its mass is created by metal. The metal is a space-occupier; the craft is a craft that imitates form. Sculpture is seductive because it appears to be real. Because it is a real-looking representation, we often overlook the fact that it is a mass of metal.
Throughout time, humans have looked at sculpture and imbued it with meaning. The Egyptians knew the power of a mass with human form to create a synthesis of the material world in the material imagination. Through the ages, we have modeled our heroes, and our dead, in such a way. So important was sculpture to early cultures that the scale of the work was the indicator of honor: The pharaoh was always the largest figure; less important minions were smaller.
Let's look at the elements in L.S.'s piece, which, because of the concept of history, brings us to a point in time. Focus first on the scale: This is small, having two editions of 10 each, one at 4 by 6 inches and one as long as 18 inches. Tabletop sculptures are a recently new innovation in the art world. Sculpture was previously always meant, by its scale, to involve people in a public place. Why sculpture moves us is that it realistically represents a moment frozen in time.
Human beings are the only creatures that understand this kind of reading; we respond to our form in stone, wood, metal, concrete. We read meaning into the material as easily as we read meaning into a friend's physical presence. Sculpture is often a target of projected concepts because it is easily attacked; it does not move and yet is a permanent moving form.
L.S.'s piece represents the Concord coach, first built in 1826, with spoked wheels to forage through mud and ruts. Where other coaches dared not venture, the Concord could because of its unique leather suspension. Concords, made by Abbot-Downing throughout the 19th century, had a big customer in the mail carrier Wells, Fargo and Co. L.S.'s piece celebrates the coach as a hero in the conquest of the West. Note two historical meanings. The scene of the action depicted represents the coach and drivers in an armed rush through Montague County, Texas, in 1863, intrepid drivers urging their horses through hostile territory once home to thousands of American Indians. The other hero not represented is known through the history of the area: Confederate military were responsible for chasing the warriors back into "Indian territory." Thus, L.S.'s sculpture has relevance to us today.
Cast metal, such as bronze, is a medium that's been used for 4,000 years to create a form immediately grasped. The technique of the craft is called the "lost wax" process. The wax is called "lost" because the ceramic negative space, which holds the shape of the sculpture, is filled with wax. When the molten bronze is poured into the cavity, the wax is lost and the form is born.
The artist, Michael Boyett, was a Vietnam Purple Heart honoree who specialized in sculpture of military and Western art themes. He created the "Texas State Military Order of the Purple Heart" sculptural monument. The artist's final commission was a figure of an American Revolutionary War Continental solider entitled "To Make Men Free" for the National Army Museum in Arlington, Va.
If L.S. were to buy this sculpture at retail, she would pay upwards of $3,000 and she should insure it for that, if she were to sell it. However, auction records indicate a value of $500.
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Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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