Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Jal Cowboy Sculpture: "The Trail Ahead..."

(Twenty miles north of Kermit is the town of Jal, New Mexico, home to a beautiful and at first startling steel sculpture called "The Trail Ahead...". The following is artist Brian Norwood's own story of the project, as recounted on his own website. All the photos in this post come from the artist's site also:)

"The Trail Ahead..." came about as a means to bring people to Jal, New Mexico--a small town hit hard when its major employer, El Paso Natural Gas Company, moved most of their employees in the mid-1980's.

While many individuals and organizations tried to improve Jal's economic outlook, I too looked for a way to help. After seeing an article in Southern Living magazine about a metal sculpture in Oklahoma, I decided that was something I could do. Although I knew nothing about working with steel--I had never cut any metal in my life--I embarked on the "JAL Cowboy Sculpture Project.

The design was intended to pay tribute to the Western heritage of the area, and the first permanent settlers--the ranchers who brought the JAL brand to southeastern New Mexico. (ABOVE: The artist and his work.)

The last Friday of each month, the Jal Chamber of Commerce puts on a community breakfast. At the January 1999 breakfast, I announced the project and began soliciting donations. I left the breakfast that morning with a pledge for a $1,000.00 donation. Word of the project reached planners for a scheduled Jal school reunion and the news hit the internet. Soon, donations were coming in at a rapid pace as Jal residents and former residents--some of whom had not lived in Jal for more than 50 years--gave money to help their hometown. In just a few months, enough money was raised to begin construction. And by March 17th, 2000, with a great deal of help from Jal resident Gene Armstrong, the sculpture was complete.

"The Trail Ahead..." has been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers across the country, and on radio, television and a variety of websites. It played a major part in the 2004 exhibit "SoQ: Contemporary Art in Southern New Mexico" at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.

According to exhibit curator Betty Gold, "The Trail Ahead..." was the lynchpin for the show. She originally intended to feature the work of better known artists from Silver City, Las Cruces, Ruidoso and Roswell until she happened on information about the Jal sculpture on the internet. "If there is something like that in a town the size of Jal" she said, "what else is out there that we are missing?" The result was an exhibition of the work of 64 artists from small towns, remote villages and southern New Mexico's larger cities.

(Another fascinating article on the sculpture can be found on nightscribbler's blog, which is a great name for a blog.)

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