Art from Kalispell to Calgary

By Beacon Staff

Foam molds, wax liners and chunks of bronze are scattered around Kalispell Art Casting in Evergreen. While each piece may look insignificant by itself, together they are part of the foundry’s largest project ever. One of the people behind the project is Bob Spaith, a Canadian artist who helped design 15 larger-than-life bronze horses that will be displayed in Calgary, Alberta this summer to memorialize that city’s iconic stampede.

Designed by Spaith and his cousin Rich Roenisch, the horses are being built in Kalispell and, after nearly three years, will be finished just in time for the Calgary Stampede’s centennial this summer. The annual rodeo, festival and exhibition are important parts of the city’s history and former Stampede chairman George Brookman said the statue will tell that story.

“For us, it’s like a legacy,” Brookman said. “This will probably be the biggest bronze statue in North America.”

The statue, titled “By the Banks of the Bow,” shows 15 horses being guided through water by two cowboys. In order to illustrate the changes of the past century, some horses are based on breeds from 1912, while others are modeled after today’s more common breeds. The two cowboys are also different, reflecting the past and the present. The concept came from Brookman and design came from Spaith and Roenisch.

Both Spaith and Roenisch are accomplished bronze artists north of the border and drew from their experiences on ranches and with horses to design the massive art piece. For Spaith, it was important that the horses looked as realistic as possible.

“Our big concern is that we’re not creating a diorama, we’re making a piece of art,” Spaith said.

Once the two artists had the concept down, they made mock-ups of the horses with clay and foam. From there, wax molds were made of each piece and surrounded with a hard foam shell. Then the wax was melted out of the mold and the resulting cast was prepped for the bronze pour. Because the statues are too large to make in one piece, each horse is separated into about 45 sections. Once that’s completed, the bronze sections are welded together.

“That’s an art in itself – pulling a piece apart and putting it back together, making sure it all fits,” Spaith said.

It takes about four to six weeks to finish one horse and most of the work is done by the foundry’s employees, including welder and manager Mike Stephan. He is one of about 20 employees at Kalispell Art Casting, which was established in 1979. Stephan said traditionally artists just drop off a piece to be cast in bronze, but both Spaith and Roenisch have been heavily involved in the process, often working as much as the foundry workers.

Stephan said it’s the largest project the art foundry has ever done.

“Just getting the pieces to fit together is challenging, but it’s important because we want to fulfill his (the artists) dream, his vision,” he said. “Getting it perfect is a challenge, but that’s the goal.”

Spaith says the final piece will be perfect and that when it is put on display in Calgary this summer, he’ll be proud to have his name on it. Some of the horses have already been delivered, but even as the project comes to a close, Spaith isn’t one to get sentimental. To him it’s just another project and another job.

“It was fun doing it, but I’m gone (after this),” he said. “I just hope the project was successful.”