07 Nov In the Studio: Preserving Wildlife in Bronze
Some called it a grizzly miracle. In the newsletter Grizzly Times, Louisa Willcox celebrated the miraculous birth of quadruplets to the matriarchal mama bear #399. “Grand Tetons’ matriarch, Grizzly #399, is perhaps the most famous grizzly bear alive,” wrote Willcox. “Her feat is remarkable for several reasons. For one, at the age of 24, 399 is truly ancient. If 399 has not warranted a proper name before now, maybe Sarah is fitting, in reference to the biblical character who gave birth at 90.”
The grizzly miracle happened in the spring of 2020 when the world was gripped in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic; 399 and her quadruplets, born in May, provided a break from bad news. She brought hope and joy to the world, as wildlife photographers followed the family, often seen near roadways, where she’d learned her cubs were safer, protected from aggressive predators in the backcountry. She’d even learned to look both ways before crossing a roadway. Grizzly #399 became a worldwide sensation.
Her popularity and that of her offspring became the favorite subject of many, but for artist Sandy Scott of Lander, Wyoming, Grizzly #399 is the symbol of a lifetime achievement. The artist created a monumental sculpture of the mama bear with four cubs romping at her feet, and it was recently installed east of Grand Teton National Park at the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming. Currently, Scott is working on a second commission of Grizzly #399 and her family, which will be installed at the Wilcox Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming, looking out over the National Elk Refuge.
Scott, who turned 80 recently, discusses the process of creating the Grizzly #399 monuments. “Turning 80 once seemed insurmountable to me, but here I am. I hit it in July, and I’ve never worked harder in my life — two monuments within the year. Never have I worked on two monuments back to back! The physical labor is something. The first monument was so large that I had to sculpt it at Eagle Bronze. It was exciting modeling the clay to bring 399 to life. She is depicted standing up at 9 feet tall and set on a platform, so I was actually working from a scaffolding most of the time. That takes so much out of you that when you are finished, you want to return to smaller works. But not this time! I’ve never worked harder, never spent more time in my studio, and I’ve never been more energized than I am right now. I’m excited to be creating Grizzly #399 and her family in another monument.”
Scott designed and built her studios in Lander in 2000 on 10 acres alongside the Popo Agie River, a tributary of the Wind River. With a large annual production of bronzes, being close to her foundry, Eagle Bronze, drew her to Wyoming. The first building on the property was a 40-by-60-foot monument building, with an upstairs loft for etching and archive storage. With its 20-foot-tall ceilings, Scott created many sculptures here, including the monumental moose and eagle installed on the grounds of the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson and her set of equine gates for the Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.
To this considerable space, Scott added a design studio, a log building that’s 40 by 40 feet, which has an office and bathroom. The design studio is where Scott works on maquettes and sculpts small to medium pieces, such as the shore birds she has been working on for two years. “This studio is designed for smaller works but large enough to sculpt larger pieces, too,” she says. “I recently did a half-size bison for the University of Colorado.”
Despite the studio space available to the artist at home, on occasion, the size of her monuments requires that she work at the foundry. “They prepare the armature and block in the foam for me to lay on the clay and model the piece,” Scott explains. “Due to the logistics of moving a huge armatured foam block to my studio, along with weather and deadline considerations, the decision was made to model and mold it at the foundry. It turned out to be a good decision. Wyoming had the worst winter on record, and the huge door to my monument building was iced in.”
Scott enjoys creating these beautiful monuments depicting the wonders of wildlife. She likes to use big tools to mold and shape swaths of clay. While creating the monument of Grizzly #399, she worked simultaneously in her design studio on a new portfolio for her galleries. “I like the contrasts of working on the monumental work then coming to my design studio where it’s intimate and private; I welcome its counterpoint,” she says.
Jeff Wilcox, gallery director of the Wilcox Gallery, says it’s fitting that Grizzly #399 will have a home in Jackson, as the bear and her offspring, 18 in her lifetime, have wandered through the town over the past 26 years. The monument will be an edition of five, with one remaining in Jackson on public view.
“Once people came to Jackson to see the Tetons, but in recent years, most who come into the gallery have come to see 399 and her cubs,” Wilcox says. “This town should have a monument to her. Who better to create it than Sandy Scott, whose monumental works can be seen on the grounds at the National Museum of Wildlife Art and who lives in Wyoming? This monument depicts 399 as she walks along a roadside with her cubs in tow — that’s what she is famous for.”
At age 80, Scott shows no signs of slowing down and instead is ramping up her production. She’s represented by a dozen galleries throughout the country, and her latest portfolio of shore birds was presented at two venues in South Carolina: Floyd Fine Arts on Pawleys Island and The Red Piano Art Gallery in Bluffton. Nearby, Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden, wildlife preserve, and designated National Historic Landmark on South Carolina’s Hammock Coast, exhibits Scott’s sculptures in their permanent collection. She is also an elected trustee at Brookgreen.
Some of the country’s finest Western art shows feature Scott’s work, keeping her design studio popping. She has shown for 36 years with Prix de West at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and for 35 years with Western Visions at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. She also participates in Masters of the American West at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles; Quest for the West at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana; at the annual art show and sale at the Buffalo Bill Center for the West in Cody, Wyoming; and her newest show at the Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Small Works, Great Wonders.
Scott is scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate in the spring of 2024 from Andersen University in South Carolina. She has also been recognized with awards from professional organizations including the National Academy of Design, the Society of Animal Artists, The National Arts Club; and she’s a fellow of the American Artists Professional League and the National Sculpture Society.
WA&A senior contributing editor Shari Morrison has been in the business of art for more than 40 years. She helped found the Scottsdale Artists’ School and the American Women Artists and directed the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund for some years.