The new sculpture occupies a prominent portion of Prineville City Hall Plaza, easily viewed by motorists driving down Third Street, the town's main drag.
In a community that famously celebrates and cherishes its cowboy Western roots, longtime residents and rodeo enthusiasts will recognize who the artwork portrays, even from a distance. Jerry Brummer certainly did.
Working across the street at the Crook County Courthouse, the county commissioner could see the uncanny resemblance to the iconic symbol of the Crooked River Roundup, the legendary bucking horse known as War Paint.
"He was a great icon here," Brummer recalls. He would know. He was fortunate enough to witness the horse in action at the local rodeo. Multiple times between the ages of 8 and 16 he eagerly awaited seeing the horse in action.
"I wondered who drew War Paint," he remembers. "Who was War Paint going to buck off this year?"
It happened a lot. War Paint was the Bucking Horse of the Year twice outright in 1956 and 1957 and tied for it in 1958. An elite prospect in the rodeo world, he possessed a potent first jump out of the shoot and followed it with a high, forceful kick. During his first few years of bucking, no cowboy could get past the second jump.
"He bucked off 90% of the guys who got on him," Brummer remembers.
Finally, Manuel Enos made the first-ever qualified ride on the horse. His rare achievement resulted in his inclusion in the iconic roundup logo – and in 2020, the new sculpture.
Roundabout art wanted
The origins of the sculpture can be traced back to the completion of a controversial roundabout at the intersection of Tom McCall Road and Highway 126, near the Prineville Airport at the top of the grade. The center of the new traffic structure was left bare dirt with plans to eventually install a piece of artwork and some surrounding landscaping.
In 2018, artwork efforts began in earnest with City Engineer Eric Klann and other civic leaders shepherding the process. Committees were formed to select an artist and to determine what type of artwork would get chosen. Early opinions dictated that the artwork should be a sculpture, made of either steel or bronze, and should represent the Crook County community – especially since the roundabout had essentially become the gateway to Prineville for westbound travelers.
A request for proposal went out and after fielding ideas from numerous interested artists, committee members went with a familiar name whose work was already familiar in Prineville. Greg Congleton, a bronze sculptor who grew up in Bend and the Paulina area, had already completed a Western-themed bronze piece, "Maverick," that graces the city hall plaza.
Congleton got to work, eventually presenting the community with five potential sculptures. The first option was a bronc rider without a base, and a second option was similar but included a base. The third option was a girl riding a horse atop a base reading "Prineville." That same base was featured in a fourth option, but that one shows a man leading the horse. The fifth option was a foal followed by a mare walking along a base that rests on a partial wagon wheel.
The bronc rider option without the base rose to the top. Steve Holliday, the current vice president of the Crooked River Roundup board, was among those pushing for the idea.
"I was trying to push for a bucking horse of some sort," he said. "In my opinion, that embodied the spirit of the community. Ranching and that spirit of the Wild West is still here."
Brummer, who has been heavily involved in the Roundup through the years as a board member and a grand marshal, agreed. But he had something more specific in mind.
"I always pushed for War Paint."
Building a work of art
A close examination of the new War Paint sculpture that will soon grace the roundabout might surprise people. From a distance, it looks like a solid bronze sculpture, but up close an inventory of different rusty, "found objects" comes into focus. There are antique spoked wheels, manure forks, garden rakes, rifles, ball bearings, wagon tires, an antique tractor seat and much more.
Brummer was initially pushing for an actual bronze but found out it would add a large amount of cost and time to the project.
"The bronze option was going to be significantly more expensive," Klann said, "and it would have taken to two years to complete it."
So Brummer agreed to the "found-object" style. Having seen similar works by Congleton in Bend, he was confident the finished piece would still look great. Those thoughts were later confirmed when the piece was unveiled last week.
"I stood there and looked at it the other day for probably an hour," he said. "Looking at it across the street at the courthouse, it looks just like a bronze, but when you get up close to it, you start looking at everything that is in there. I could still see something new today."
One reason Congleton chosen to build sculptures out of found objects is that it forces him into a loose style.
"While being faithful to the proportions, it does not get bogged down in detail that your eye seems to enjoy completing on its own anyway," he said. "People appreciate the creativity it takes to work objects they recognize and perhaps have thrown aside as damaged or worn out into a stunning work of art."
The artist went on to say that he works in this medium because of the profound similarities to his own human condition as an ordinary man. He points out that the materials you see in these sculptures are largely salvaged materials destined for the landfill or scrap heap.
"In the right hands they can be transformed into a wonderful work of art of far greater value than what those objects were ever worth even when new," he said.
A temporary home
Most people probably expected to see the new roundabout art for the first time inside the traffic structure. But city leaders thought it would make more sense to temporarily display it somewhere away from traffic, a place where people could walk up and get a closer, longer look.
"That's why we wanted to put it down at the plaza," Klann said.
"We are excited to provide the community an opportunity to view War Paint up close before it is permanently placed in the roundabout next year," added Prineville Mayor Steve Uffelman.
The downtown location will also enable city leaders, people involved with the project and other members of the public to participate in a dedication ceremony this spring. Among those expected to attend are Vicki and Bobby Christensen, offspring of Bob Christensen, who was one of the Christensen Brothers, a duo that owned War Paint for much of his life.
Hank and Bob Christensen purchased War Paint in 1948 from Orrie Sommers, a Klamath Indian Reservation tribe member, after the tribe failed to break the spirited stallion. They would own the iconic horse until his death in 1975.
The brothers initially tried the 1,400-pound horse in bareback bronc riding but later moved him to saddle bronc riding competitions, where he excelled.
Vicki fondly remember War Paint as a larger-than-life animal.
"He knew he was special and there was no taking that away from him, you know – he had an air about him," she said.
She and Bobby were both thrilled – and surprised – when they learned that War Paint would be immortalized in such a prominently displayed sculpture.
"I had no idea about it," Vicki said. "I first saw it on Facebook, and it was like, 'Oh wow!' Instant tears."
Bobby, who also learned about the piece on Facebook, added that it is "a great tribute to the horse and the rodeo world."
"I think it will be great in Prineville," he said. "I think it will be a very attractive monument at the top of the hill."
Moving up to the roundabout
City officials have not set an exact date for the dedication or when they will finally haul the sculpture up the grade to its final destination – all that is known for sure is that it will probably happen sometime in the spring.
But once it is in place, project leaders will celebrate the completion of a major effort, all funded by private donations, that will serve as a new gateway to the community.
"War Paint will serve as a visual focal point welcoming both visitors and residents to our community," Uffelman said.
"We are very pleased," Klann added. "It really represents Crook County in a positive light."
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