The bronze herd populating the “Branding the Brazos” public sculpture project near the Waco Suspension Bridge added a mounted vaquero and steer Thursday, moving the three-dimensional tribute to Waco’s days as a Chisholm Trail stop closer to completion.
The addition, placed northwest of the park’s entry to the Waco Suspension Bridge, imparted more action to the herd already in place as the bandoliered vaquero, armed with holstered shotgun and pistol, waved his sombrero at a steer that is causing his horse to rear.
On the other side of the bridge entry are more cattle, headed by a trail boss. A black drover, yet to be cast, will complete the cowboys in “Branding the Brazos.” Artist Robert Summers hopes that figure can be finished and installed this year.
Summers, 73, has spent the last six years working on the $1.65 million project, whose cost has been underwritten in large part by Waco businessman Clifton Robinson.
The Glen Rose-based artist was present to oversee the sculptures’ installation with Clint Howard, owner of Deep in the Heart Art Foundry in Bastrop, which has cast the bronze cattlemen and more than a dozen longhorns to date.
Thursday’s installation was a bit trickier than past ones as the rearing horse and steer had to be maneuvered so they touched, horse foreleg to steer tail, then welded in place. The two bronze figures joined to create one large, stable sculpture resting on four steel bolts drilled into a foot-thick concrete pad.
Howard said the stability was necessary because of its park location and expected use.
“You’ll get about 20 kids on top of it,” he said, grinning, as he and his workers coordinated the sculptures’ position as the vaquero hung suspended from a crane.
The sculptures — cast bronze plates and pieces affixed to interior steel framing — won’t be easily moved. The horse and rider weigh about 3,300 pounds, the steer 1,200 and the cowboy’s sombrero 180 pounds, Howard said. The steer is assembled from 44 bronze castings, while about 100 went into the vaquero and his horse.
The vaquero features some of Summers’ most detailed work in his “Branding” herd, captured in the cowboy’s weathered face, his sombrero, his tooled leather saddle, cartridge belt, saddlebag and stirrups. Spurs on the vaquero’s boots also spin.
Summers said he used three basic longhorn bodies, six horn designs and six tail ones to create the varied Indian Spring Park herd. The cattle, when finished, will fall into roughly three groups, representing the Chisholm Trail, the Western Trail and the Shawnee Trail, paths that 19th-century cattle drives used through the Waco area on their way to northern stockyards and railroad junctures.
The Waco cattle are fatter than those Summers sculpted for a similar bronze cattle drive in Dallas’ Pioneer Park before his “Branding the Brazos.” It’s a point of pride and historical accuracy for Summers, who pointed out that cowboys on a drive were businessmen, too, and knew fatter cattle at market meant more silver in their pockets.
It isn’t the foundry’s largest sculpture project. That title goes to a 56-piece tribute to the Oklahoma land rush set up in Oklahoma City, Howard said. But that collection only has horses and riders.
Thursday’s installation put a large smile on the face of Doreen Ravenscroft, Cultural Arts of Waco president and leader of the “Branding the Brazos” project. Ravenscroft said with the second major sculpture firmly planted in Indian Spring Park, the project’s end is in sight.
“Hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll have the drover and the rest of the longhorns,” she said.
Also on hand and smiling was Waco Convention Center and Visitors Bureau director Liz Taylor, who said the addition of the Western bronzes had made the riverside park much more noticed — and remembered — by city visitors.