Countless hours of work came to an end Sunday night for two Abilene metal artists as their sculpture depicting the Abilene Cowboys mascot was erected in front of Abilene High School.
Jason Lahr and Donnie Knauss, who each have other jobs, began work on the three-dimensional metal sculpture in May 2016, spending nearly every Saturday since in Lahr’s shop south of Abilene, shaping and welding the one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Back in January 2019, the men said they had already spent more than a thousand hours working on the bucking bronco and cowboy.
“Good thing we hurried,” Knauss joked Sunday night, while chiseling a hole in the concrete foundation to better accommodate the base of the statue.
“It’s high time. It’s been three years and three months,” Lahr said with a laugh. “I enjoyed seeing it in my shop everyday. I’m actually going to miss it. My shop looks bare.”
The metal sculpture weighs around a ton and is 15 feet, two inches tall, including the pedestal, Lahr said.
Moving the sculpture
It took Lahr, Knauss and a few helpers several hours Sunday to load the metalwork on a flatbed and tie it down for transport. It was separated into two parts, the horse and the cowboy’s legs being one and the cowboy’s torso being the other.
The truck hauling the trailer was driven over back roads into Abilene, arriving at AHS around 6:30 p.m.
The installation was done after dark for a couple of reasons.
One, Lahr and Knauss didn’t want a lot of publicity due to safety issues. (Lifting something that weighs a ton and stands more than 15 feet high can be a challenge); and secondly, they wanted it to be a surprise to AHS students who returned to school Monday following Christmas break.
After reaching AHS, the sculpture and its pedestal were erected on a three-level concrete base stained a rich brown color to match the horse. Mark Weaver of Abilene completed the concrete work.
It took several hours to move the sculpture off the truck onto the concrete base and anchor it down. Then Lahr climbed a ladder to slide and weld the cowboy’s torso into place atop the horse.
Wall needs some art
The project began in 2016 when the new Abilene High School addition was being built.
At the time, the AHS Art Teacher Toni Britt felt the huge wall that faced 14th Street would make a nice backdrop for a large sculpture; but former Superintendent Denise Guy suggested placing it by the front entrance on Mulberry Street.
Britt met with the Abilene Board of Education in April 2016, telling them she had approached Lahr and Knauss who are “welders by trade, but artists by choice” about tackling the project.
The two volunteered to donate their time and skills to create a bucking bronco sculpture as a way of giving back to their alma mater. Lahr graduated from AHS in 1991, Knauss in 1981.
Britt also asked permission to fundraise to buy materials for the sculpture, lighting and landscaping. Soon after it was reported in the Reflector-Chronicle, people began asking how much money was needed and Britt began fundraising after receiving board approval in May 2016.
Abilene USD 435 Clerk of the Board Joan Anderson said Monday that $9,897.32 had been raised. Several AHS classes, the Arts Council of Dickinson County and various individuals have made donations. Plans are to install a plaque listing the donors.
Lahr said Sunday he did not know “off the top of his head” how much material was used to compete the project or the final cost.
Not surprisingly, Britt was outside AHS Sunday night observing as her idea became a reality. The former AHS art teacher traveled back to Abilene from her home in the Kansas City area to attend.
“It’s making me kind of teary-eyed,” Britt said with a big smile on her face. “It’s beautiful. I can’t believe it’s finally done.
“I’ve been monitoring the progress and sharing with people,” she said. “I knew it (the sculpture) would be good, but I never dreamed it would be that amazing. My goodness! The skill they (Lahr and Knauss) have!”
Britt said the sculpture was a work of art.
“It fits a lot of the most basic aesthetics. They took it above and beyond. Even just the way they swirled the metals,” Britt added. “Every bit of it is well crafted.”
Britt said the metal sculpture could easily be in a gallery.
“I hope they make some more. I tease them and I said, “I just made you famous’,” Britt said with a smile.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.