Originally Published: January 13, 2012 10:49 p.m.
Wounds of long ago find healing in a new exhibit, "Cultural Connections: Cowboys and Indians in Sculpture," that artfully melds what were once warring factions in the Old West.
The show featuring the works of cowboy artist Bill Nebeker and Doug Hyde of the Nez Perce people opens at Smoki Museum today, with a reception from 2 to 6 p.m. This is the museum's first-ever exhibit of sculpture.
It all began with a presentation that Nebeker, an Arizona Culture Keeper, gave at the museum a year ago. He mentioned that his father, Ted, had been a member of the Smoki People. Nebeker's wife, Merry, asked if the museum would be interested in an exhibit of her husband's sculpture. Cindy Gresser, the museum's director, replied she "would love to, but the Smoki Museum is about Native Americans," yet she also noted that she "found the relationship between cowboys and Indians interesting these days."
As an example of the growing respect the cultures now have for each other, Gresser noted that an "awesome young Navajo" was a bull rider in the Prescott Frontier Days World's Oldest Rodeo, and that ranchers among the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe have cattle herds running on their property.
So she asked, "Are they so far apart these days? The lines are getting blurred."
In reflecting on this question, she became "very interested in exploring the relationship today as opposed to the past."
At Merry Nebeker's suggestion, Hyde, who often shows in galleries and exhibitions alongside Bill Nebeker, became the natural partner in "Cultural Connections: Cowboys and Indians in Sculpture."
Nebeker's roots go deep in Prescott. He is a Prescott High School graduate who decades ago came under the influence of the late George Phippen, a founder of the Cowboy Artists of America, when he worked at his foundry in Skull Valley.
With grit and determination, Nebeker eventually struck out on his own and gained widespread acclaim when he sculpted a bronze of cowboy movie star John Wayne in the mid-1970s. "I've got to do this," Nebeker recalls of his inspiration for the statue after seeing the star in "The Searchers." Wayne put his signature on the piece, the original of which is now among Wayne's collection in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
That was only the beginning. Nebeker says his "career is a hobby that got out of hand." He exhibits his work extensively in galleries, museums and shows - far beyond his "Early Prescott Settlers" sculptures that stand at the gateway to town.
Nebeker, whose father was a cowboy on the Long Meadow Ranch, has an inherent affinity for sculpting herdsmen, but he also says he is intrigued by Native Americans - the regalia from different tribes, their determination, their artifacts, their costumes, knives, hatchets and their mystic symbols.
He has "spent 30 years researching every tribe there is," he said of the pieces he has crafted.
Gresser describes Hyde's work as "very traditional imagery, modern, sleek, fluid, beautiful, and gorgeous." To see pieces in the mediums of both Nebeker and Hyde is "really interesting," she said, adding the artists tie the theme of the show together "very dramatically" even though "there is a different look to them."
Hyde, a nine-year resident of Prescott, grew up in Idaho and spent 35 years in Santa Fe, N.M., after attending the Institute of American Indian Arts. He intended to learn painting, he said, but decided "it was easier to look" at work in three-dimensional stone "rather than on a flat canvas." His artistry is both in stone and bronze.
His specialty is stylized, interpretive Native American people and animals, often monumental pieces for cities and tribes' cultural centers. Prescottonians will recognize Hyde's 10-1/2-foot high bronze of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce that stands at the Phippen Museum.
"I do a lot of direct carving from stone," Hyde said, and it is that stone that gives him his inspiration. With marble, granite, alabaster or limestone in front of him, "I use the color and shape of the stone to suggest what the image is going to be," he said, rather than taking a large block of stone and deciding beforehand what he will create.
"Lots of stone is in boulder shapes with veining," he said. "I try to use the colors and veining to enhance my ideas." His bronzes, he said, are made from his original stone work that he first carves. Then he forms a mold for casting in bronze.
Of the Smoki Museum exhibit, Hyde said, "It's a nice mixture of cowboy and Native American art. To me, it speaks of Prescott. This country was originally Yavapai country, then ranching. It's a nice mixture of past history."
"Cultural Connections: Cowboys and Indians in Sculpture" runs until April 28. Admittance for the opening reception is free to Smoki Museum members and $10 for guests. The museum is located at 147 N. Arizona St. For information, call 445-1230.