A moment in time
Painting captures long-past summer, historic friendship
Craig — A gun, a felled elk and the stillness of the Colorado wilderness.
The summer picture created by renowned sculptor and painter Alexander Phimister Proctor may appear simple. But behind it lies a long friendship between the artist and city founder William Bayard Craig. Proctor’s autobiography, “Sculptor in Buckskin,” describes the remarkable summer of 1887 and the events leading up to it.
Prior to that summer, Craig – then pastor of the First Christian Church in the town that now bears his name – encouraged the artist in the early days of his career, Proctor explained in his autobiography. Craig persuaded others to commission paintings to Proctor. He even sold some of the burgeoning artist’s small pieces.
Ultimately, Craig helped Proctor make the first step toward fulfilling his calling.
At the same time Craig was selling Proctor’s work, the young artist began entertaining ambitions of studying art. Money – or the lack thereof – stood between him and his dream.
Shortly thereafter, in 1885, after a failed attempt at mining in Central City, Proctor asked for Craig’s help. Earlier, the pastor of the up-and-coming First Christian Church had offered to buy Proctor’s Grand Lake homestead. After listening to his friend’s predicament, Craig decided to make good on his offer.
Equipped with a new suit, an English suitcase he bought at a pawnshop and the funds from his newly sold property, Proctor soon headed east to New York, embarking on his new career.
Later, Proctor and Craig would reunite in the Colorado wilderness.
In 1887, on vacation from New York, Proctor camped in the Flat Tops, accompanied by Craig. Here, Proctor painted the picture that now resides at the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig.
Occasionally, Proctor explained in his autobiography, he himself shot the animals he wished to sketch and then positioned the carcasses to his liking, allowing him to sketch them at his leisure. For the painting in the museum, however, Proctor painted an elk Craig shot.
As Proctor would soon learn, these few weeks in 1887 were the prelude to a summer he wouldn’t soon forget.
Eventually, Craig chose to return home to his family – but the artist was determined to stay.
During the rest of his stay, Proctor shot and killed three bears and one mountain lion, all of which he stumbled upon in or near his camp. Later, while Proctor stayed at a friend’s ranch, a cowboy attempted to steal his six-shooter – and was foiled by the ranch foreman who threatened to lynch the offender.
The summer ended and with it, so did Proctor’s vacation. With sketches, hunting trophies and hair-raising stories in abundance, Proctor headed back to New York.
Proctor’s painting, now 120 years old, was recently acquired by the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Museum Director Dan Davidson notes although the work of art is in need of a cleaning, the artist’s signature and the date in red flowing script can still be seen clearly in the bottom right hand corner.
For more information about Proctor or W.B. Craig, visit the Museum of Northwest Colorado or call 824-6360.
Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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