Local artist commemorates Johnson County legend | New

Before reaching his resting place on the grounds of Cheyenne Frontier Days, the larger-than-life D. Michael Thomas statue of famed cowboy and country singer Chris LeDoux traveled through Johnson County on a set announcing his oversized load. .

A day and a half of travel and lots of honking and slamming the brakes from curious highway drivers later, remembers Buffalo resident and sculptor, LeDoux was lifted by a crane and set up at the Frontier Days exhibition center, where his likeness is seated under a blue tarpaulin. while waiting for its debut.

Cast in Cody at the Caleco Foundry from 2,000 pounds of bronze, the statue titled “Just LeDoux It” is life-and-a-half-size, measuring 13 feet tall. The statue depicts LeDoux on top of a prancing horse with a guitar nearby, apparently ready to be strummed at any time.

Minor changes distinguish “Just LeDoux It” and Thomas LeDoux’s first creation, “Good Ride Cowboy”, which resides in Kaycee. In the two statues which are about 250 miles apart, the location of the guitar and LeDoux’s competitor number differ. In his hometown, LeDoux’s number is the same as when he won the World Rodeo Championship in 1976. In Cheyenne, he will sport the Cheyenne Frontier Days logo and number 125, a nod to the 125th anniversary of the fair.

“It’s a sincere thing to have your artwork in front of so many people,” Thomas said. “And since Chris was a friend of mine, I’m also honored, being the artist who honors him.”

Jimmy Dean Siler, CEO of Frontier Days, said the board has decided to honor LeDoux because he embodies everything the event is – known as ‘Daddy of’ em All -: rodeos, music and a good time.

“If you want to pick the one person who’s kind of the hometown hero who covers it all,… he’s a world champion bareback riding cowboy, and he was at the top of the whole industry. music, ”Siler said. “So he covered everything basically Cheyenne Frontier Days.”

And when you go to create an image of LeDoux, said Siler, you go with Thomas.

A year after LeDoux died in 2005 at the age of 56 from a rare form of cancer, Thomas, who was friends with LeDoux through interactions at Thomas’s grocery store, approached his family. Thomas said he told them he knew a lot of sculptors would want to sculpt LeDoux after his death, and he wanted to be the one to do it.

“I showed them a bit of what I had in mind,” said Thomas. “They loved it. And I was right, there were a lot of artists who wanted to do it, and (the family) said, ‘No, Mike is going to be that one.'”

For the Kaycee monument, Thomas modeled Chris’ signature wardrobe – his rodeo saddlery, rig and leggings, spurs, guild guitar – after pieces loaned to him by the LeDoux family. .

Capturing LeDoux’s demeanor and spirit was less difficult than someone who knew him. Thomas said LeDoux purchased ranch supplies from the grocery store, where the two exchanged stories of artwork and travel.

“He was running in one circle and I was running in the other, but when we met in the middle, we had a lot to say to each other,” Thomas said.

LeDoux’s star rose when Garth Brooks mentioned him in his song “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old”, with the line “a worn out Chris LeDoux cassette” in 1989).

Chris’s son, country singer Ned LeDoux, will open for Brooks at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

LeDoux said his family will attend the bronze dedication ceremony.

“I’m sure he’s up there with a big old smile, pretty proud,” LeDoux said.

LeDoux said he has known Thomas for most of his life, so he is happy to have sculpted his father. Chris used to call Thomas “the Charlie Russell of our time,” LeDoux said, referring to the famous Western American artist.

“It has been really rewarding for me to get to know the LeDoux family,” said Thomas.

The Kaycee statue was unveiled in 2010, after five years of work. From conception to dedication, bronze for Frontier Days took two and a half years, Thomas said.

To make the sculpture, Thomas rented part of the woolen mill because he needed higher ceilings to accommodate the sculpture. The statue is about 13 feet tall, he said, but on a pedestal it stands 17 to 18 feet tall.

The Caleco Foundry in Cody produced the bronze mold, did the finishing, welded it together and added the patina, which protects the metal from the elements, said Bob Goton, studio general manager.

“Just LeDoux It” is a bit larger than most of the artwork the foundry works with, Goton said. On average, most statues weigh around 1,300 pounds of bronze and are one and a quarter full size. The Caleco smelter part of the project lasted about a year, Goton said.

Goton has worked at the studio for 19 years and has worked with Thomas just as long. For him and the foundry, it’s gratifying to be a part of the state’s most anticipated annual event.

“Everything has been done for Wyoming,” he said. “The person it was carved after, the sculptor, and it was cast here in Wyoming.”

In 1993, when Thomas started sculpting professionally, he couldn’t have imagined his work on such a large stage. His first job that year was for the 100th anniversary of the First Northern Bank of Wyoming on Main Street in Buffalo.

At the time, he had to decide if he wanted to pursue his dream of sculpting full-time or live comfortably on the regular salary of his grocery store, which is now MTR Ranch Supply.

With a degree in Animal Science and Veterinary Science from the University of Wyoming and no art classes to speak of, he went from hobbyist to world-renowned sculptor.

“(It took) a lot of luck,” Thomas said. “It took a lot of study, but it was a school of hard knocks. I had no idea what the foundry experience was like, where they make the mold, do the casts, the finish, the patinas.

The First Northern Bank statue took an entire year of 12-hour days and weekends to complete. Today, her resume boasts numerous awards and accolades, with “The Featured Artist” at Cheyenne Frontier Days now at the top of her list.

“Getting it right has been a lot of hard work, a lot of time on the windshield and going to art shows all over the western United States and getting your foot in the door,” said Thomas. “Now, after so many years, it looks like these dividends have paid off.”

The Cheyenne Frontier Days run from July 23 to August 1, and Thomas’ sculpture is due to be dedicated on July 23. Smaller versions of the statue are available for purchase through Frontier Days.

The monument, once unveiled, will be visible on both sides of Interstate 25, according to event organizers.

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