The first sculpture Bill Nebeker cast was of two mountain men. He had been crafting small clay pieces at his kitchen table in the evenings, after working all day with other artists at George Phippen’s Bear Paw Bronze Foundry in Skull Valley, near Nebeker’s home in Prescott, Arizona. “It was pretty crude,” Nebeker admits.
But it sold. So did the others he made after it. It wasn’t long before he was making more selling sculptures than he was at the foundry, so he gave up his job and starting sculpting full time: cowboys, mostly, but also Native Americans and wildlife.
That was in the late 1960s, when Western art was just becoming popular. Back then, every idea Nebeker had was new. Fast forward five decades, however, and original ideas are not quite as easy to come by.
“After 50 years, the hardest thing is not to repeat ideas,” he says. “Now I have to do a lot more thinking to come up with an idea I like.”
Bill Nebeker (Arizona)
Cold Mornin’ Cow Camp
“Everyday life of the cowboy begins before dawn, with coffee and hot grub, as he waits for the day’s horses (remuda) to come in. He picks his horse, saddles, and heads out to gather cattle. He is probably on a remote cow camp with only his bedroll, saddle, rope, and gear for several weeks. The job he and the cowhands have is to find cows with new calves, gather and brand them, and get an exact count for the boss. When done, they repair fences, doctor cattle, check water tanks, head to another remote camp, and do it over again ‘til the job is complete. This cowboy is beginning another day in a cold morning cow camp.”
Bill Nebeker (Arizona)
“There is an old saying: A good dog is worth three cowboys, and a bad dog is like losing a whole crew of cowboys. Some ranches don’t allow dogs at all, but I feel a good, well trained one is a wonder to watch. Rough country outfits use dogs to find and hold cattle that try to get away during gatherings. Open country ranches use other breeds of dogs to herd their cattle. A cowboy with a good dog can get a lot of work done. Not every horse will allow a dog to hitch a ride; it takes some training and getting used to. This cowboy needs to cover a large amount of rough country and is giving one amigo a ride on his other amigo. This bronze will be at the 2018 Prix de West Show.”