Chasing the Greats

Published online courtesy Western Art Collector, November 2015

A new photo exhibition at Arizona’s Desert Caballeros Western Museum steps into the studios of some of Western’s most talented bronze artists.

 Photography and foundry owner Erik Petersen tells a great story that begins and ends with sculptor John Coleman.

 It begins many years ago in Coleman’s own studio where Erik, then an ambitious young bronze artist, was carving out his own foundry business in a rented corner of Coleman’s workshop.  Erik had already been doing patina work for Kim Obrzut, and then he landed Coleman’s work, which also came with his inexhaustible work style.

 “John was doing his own patina at the time.  His work ethic is unparalleled.  I mean, not only is he one of the top bronze artists working, but he was doing his own patina,” Erik says  “And we all – me, John, and his wife Sue – worked in the studio from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. nearly every day of the week.”

 As his work in patina and chasing – the reassembly and welding of the cast bronze – expanded into new corners of Coleman’s studio, Erik gained more and more clients, including Ken Rowe, Bill Nebeker, Deborah Fellows, Susan Kliewer …  a who’s who of Western sculpture.  It was this list of artists that would lay the foundation for Collecting the West: Inspiration to Creation – The Hidden Life Behind Bronze, the photography exhibition by Erik and his cousin, Willie Petersen.  The show opens with a sneak preview November 13 at Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona.

 “Our show is not really about the artists, but about what inspires them and how they work in the studio.  We have Deborah Fellows out on her ranch with her horses, Bill Nebeker in his studio with his guitar, Ken Rowe fly-fishing, and lots of behind-the-scenes shots of the bronzes being made,” Erik says.  “There is a lot of mystery in the bronze process.  We let people see what’s going on.  We put a face to the process.”

Now, the story began with Coleman, and it also ends with him: “When it came time for Willie and I to do our own photos,” Erik says, “we asked John, who was more than happy to do it for us.”

 Erik and Willie Petersen’s images of Western sculptors, as well as bronzes by the artists, will be on exhibit through March 1, 2015.