Just after 2 a.m. on Friday, June 2, 1899, men wearing white masks and carrying lanterns flagged down the Union Pacific Overland Flyer No. 1 at mile marker No. 609 outside of Wilcox, Wyo.
Led by Harry “The Sundance Kid” Longabaugh, The Wild Bunch subsequently pulled off one of the American West’s most famous train robberies. The gang used dynamite – lots of dynamite – first to disable a bridge trestle, then to blast the doors off both a mail and express car before finally blowing open a safe.
Within a matter of hours, the thieves had made off with unsigned bank notes, cash and jewelry estimated at up to $50,000. (Today, the 1899 heist would be valued at nearly $1.5 million). Some of those unsigned bank notes later surfaced in Durango, Mancos and Cortez, near where Sundance’s cousin, George Longabaugh, homesteaded.
Fast forward to 2015, and sculptor Greg Kelsey, of Ignacio, has memorialized that great train robbery in one of his latest works, “Sundance and The Wild Bunch Hit the Union Pacific.” The 22-inch-tall, 35-inch-long and 25-inch-wide sculpture features Ben “The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick on the left, “The Sundance Kid” in the middle, and William “News” Carver on the right, all on horseback with raised pistols crossing a railroad track.
Not only a resident in one of the old stomping grounds of The Wild Bunch, Kelsey said a close Southwest Colorado friend also owned property where portions of the Hollywood movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” were filmed in the late 1960s.
“This historical tale resonated with me,” said Kelsey. “It’s a dynamic story that was perfect material for a sculpture.”
Kelsey and his sculpture will be featured starting this weekend at the invitational 10th Annual Quest for the West art show and sale hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis. The exhibit runs through Oct. 11.
Joining Kelsey at the event are sculptor and painter Veryl Goodnight, of Mancos, and painter Mike Desatnick, of Durango. Representing contemporary artists in Southwest Colorado, all three are among the 50 featured artists selected for the show.
“This area is a beautiful, inspirational place to live and work creatively,” said Kelsey.
“Having three artists from this area invited to the Quest at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis really is quite an endorsement of the creative energy that is so abundant here,” she said.
While located in the Midwest, the Eiteljorg Museum has been instrumental in expanding western art, because curators recognized that the original American West was the East Coast, Goodnight said. The Eiteljorg’s permanent collection includes work by Frederick Remington, a New York illustrator who traveled west during The Wild Bunch era, and Georgia O’Keefe, an American icon perhaps best known for her use of colors and shapes to capture the New Mexico landscape.
“It is always humbling to have your work shown with that of your own artist heroes,” Goodnight said.
Born in Denver, Goodnight’s focus of her work is life itself. As a child, she dreamed of having a horse, and this desire became the impetus for her art. Goodnight, an internationally acclaimed sculptor and painter, is said to have bridged the gap between 19th century and 20th century Western heritage and life.
One of her works to be featured at the Quest for the West show is “The Bachelor Band,” a sculpture of three mustang stallions measuring 3 feet long and 2 feet high.
“Wild Stallions are fiercely protective of their mares and foals,” Goodnight said. “However, when their sons reach the age of about 2 years, they are driven off to fend for themselves.”
With manes and tails flying in the wind, “The Bachelor Band” successfully captures three stallions play-fighting with one another while testing their own strengths.
Desatnick, born and raised in Hammond, Ind., started his artistic career at the American Academy of Art in nearby Chicago after a decorated military tour in Vietnam.
His paintings of Native Americans have been described as sensitive and empathetic. His use of bold colors, striking play of light and authentic native costumes are enhanced by the realistic expressions of the people he paints.
On display at the Quest for the West Show, one of his latest, “Proud Sioux,” is an oil painting measuring 16 by 20 inches.
Multiple attempts to reach Desatnick for comment were unsuccessful.