My sculpture of Billy the Kid began as a joke some 20 years ago: Pat Beckett, (founder of COAS Books in downtown Las Cruces) and I were talking about the plight of our blighted downtown. Pat said a “city father” asked him how to "get people downtown." To which Pat replied: "You really want to get people downtown? Build a hundred-foot tall Billy the Kid and put a restaurant in his sombrero!" We both laughed. But the more I thought about it, the more brilliant I decided the concept was.
So, my sculpture was created to become a one-hundred-foot-tall fiberglass tourist attraction attached to a faux-historic commercial building at the corner of Las Cruces Avenue and Main Street.
To prepare for this grand project, I set to work creating a life-size sculpture of Billy the Kid. I purchased a high-resolution image of the famous tintype of Billy from The Museum of New Mexico.
Standing in his iconic pose, Colt revolver in its holster, Winchester in his left hand. The high-resolution image allowed me to suss out telling details, such as the embroidered pattern on his shirt, the gambler’s ring on his left hand and the sense that one of the reasons his jaw looked so odd was that he had probably spoken while holding his pose for the photographer in Fort Sumner, causing portions of his face to be blurred a bit in the image.
I welded up a steel armature to support the clay sculpture and ordered a couple hundred pounds of oil clay.
I completed the sculpture in 2013, thinking I would sell a few bronze casts of the work. There was some interest from a few quarters, but no subscribers. And so, Billy stood in the corner of my studio for years.
This year I got an inquiry from New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum about utilizing Billy in an exhibit on the Lincoln County Wars.
Since the clay original was too delicate to move and display, I took it as an opportunity to use my bit of mold-making and resin-casting experience to create resin casts of the sculpture for the museum and other Billy the Kid aficionados.
I am now in the process of working out the process to create those casts. The molds have been made, test casts have commenced, and I’m hopeful I’ll have a successful cast finished for when the museum opens again.
In addition to being the anniversary of the day Billy the Kid was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett, July 14 also is the birthday of artist, actor, composer and photographer Bob Diven.