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Sculptor Chris Navarro builds monuments at ProRodeo Hall of Fame 

The Cut

click to enlarge CHRIS NAVARRO
  • Chris Navarro

Professional bull rider: Someone who straddles the back of a raging one-ton animal and tries to hang on for eight seconds.

It's usually a short-lived career.

"You're gonna get hurt," says Wyoming sculptor Chris Navarro. "It takes you to deep water."

The 60-year-old artist was a professional bull rider until his late 20s, but his life changed forever upon viewing a bronze sculpture called "Two Champs" by late Western artist Harry Jackson, while on a hunting trip near Lost Cabin, Wyoming. The sculpture spotlights a cowboy riding Steamboat, the famous bucking horse depicted on the state's license plates.

"It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen," he says. The price was $35,000, and Navarro couldn't afford that, so he decided to make his own. He bought supplies, attended workshops, read books, and — boom! a sculpture in bronze. But he wanted more. He wanted to make huge installations.

"Monuments are public, they're out there, and bronze will last thousands of years. I like going big."

Around that time, 1989, bull-riding phenomenon Lane Frost — the subject of the 1994 biographical film 8 Seconds — died trying to ride a bull named Takin' Care of Business.

"Nobody was doing a monument to him," says Navarro, "so I commissioned myself to do it." That bronze was unveiled at Frontier Days Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1993.

The time since has proved fruitful.

"I learned by doing," he says. "I put in a lot of hours, and a lot of years, and with every piece I created I became more skilled. ... If you want to do something bad enough, you do it. If not, you make excuses."

Navarro's works have garnered such awards as the Best of Show for New Artist in the Calgary Stampede Art Show in 2012, and he won the Wyoming Arts Council Governor's Art Award in 2015. Museums that own his sculptures include the Bull Riding Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas; the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming; and the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.

He also counts numerous monumental pieces on public display, including the award-winning "20% Chance of Flurries," a 15-foot bronze depicting a rancher on his horse, a calf slung across the saddle, pulling hard through wind and snow. It was commissioned by the Colorado Department of Agriculture to honor Colorado's ranch and farm families, and it resides at Fort Collins' Colorado State University. Here, the Air Force Academy and Flying Horse community host works by Navarro.

And Navarro now has a show at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Embrace the Struggle, spotlighting 38 of his pieces.

He doesn't ride bulls anymore; he leaves that to his son, J.C. But he does do team roping when he's not creating art about Western and rodeo culture, or wrangling the odd T-Rex.

"The real reward is in the experience of doing," he says. "You don't ride bulls for the money. Most do it because they got to. That's why I do art."

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