Local artist captures spirit of people, animals in bronze
November 8, 2000
“I get lost in it,” Bert Rakestraw said as he rubs his face with his hands and struggles to articulate what role his art plays in his life.
The artist’s drawings and bronzes adorn the comfortable knotty pine cabin that he and his wife Mary live in on Wilderness Ranch.
Sitting down in front of the crackling woodstove, with his dog sprawled out on the floor, under the huge beams of a pine log A-frame the man talked about his years of making life into art.
It is his devotion to working with livestock, a farrier by trade, that both influences and allows him to be dedicated to his art creations. As the need for shoeing horses winds down in the winter, Rakestraw trades his hammer and tacks for a pencil and set of sculpting tools.
Many of his drawings depict an earlier form of ranching, a time before the high costs of Cat tractors a time that is no more.
“I want to record the type of life that is gone,” Rakestraw said, as he described the ranching method and machinery in one of his drawings.
He has a long-term plan for creating a series of drawings that show the old style of ranching, called a “western historical series.”
Rakestraw looks to old family photographs for subject matter in his art. When referring to a drawing, he pointed out his uncles by name.
Rakestraw is one-eighth Cherokee and some of his bronzes and drawings recreate different native American figures yet another part of his heritage intertwined in his work. He explained how that part of his heritage wasn’t always a proud part of his family’s history.
“My dad didn’t talk about it,” he said. “The only way I found out I had some of that blood in me was the few times my mother told me about it.”
A part of his life that was once concealed now comes out vibrantly detailed in his art.
Mary, Rakestraw’s wife, helped the modest man describe his beautiful creations.
“I’m captivated by the fact that he can make a three dimensional drawing from something that I just use to write with,” she said. “Out of a pencil he makes things come alive. It is like he breathes new life into those photos by making them a piece of art.”
His art is having a similar effect on art collectors. His work can be found across the country and has gained quick popularity.
Born in Steamboat Springs, the artist grew up outside of Hamilton. He wears a traditional cowboy kerchief around his neck. His hands have aged before their time, a testament to a life of working with livestock.
Drawing, sculpting and jewelry design clearly aren’t his only art forms his shoeing talents are known by many locals. Rakestraw has grown the reputation of being one of the best in the area and while he doesn’t boast about his work being art, anyone who has worked with horses knows better.
“It’s tough work,” Rakestraw said. “It has its ups and its downs. You don’t always get as much done as you want, but it isn’t always the horse’s fault.”
Rakestraw doesn’t measure the success of his creations by what buildings they hang in, or the selling price. He simply creates what he knows and the soft-spoken man knows horses.
“I understand them better than most people,” Rakestraw said. “You need to get along well with the horse and have kind of a calming effect on them. It takes time to develop it.”
Black Powder rifles, personally crafted by Rakestraw, hang on the walls of his mountain retreat making a statement of his devotion to a lifestyle of years past. He eventually wants his art to become his passage back to living a way of life that burned out like the black powder.
“I think I’ll probably phase myself out of shoeing,” he said. “I would like to spend more time on my art and more time riding (horses), but that doesn’t count,” he said in a serious tone. “Anytime you spend horseback riding doesn’t count, it is just time that you can add on to the rest of your life.”
Bert Rakestraw’s art work can be seen through the month of November at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. His work is on exhibit there along with the work of Frances Reust, now through Nov. 30.