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When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted, Vic Payne

Image: Chelsea Fitch

Mountain Trails Gallery is housed in a historic 1917 Main Street building that once served as a silver miners’ bank. With original tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, and an intact fortified vault, the setting seems just right for a celebration of the art of the Wild West.

Opened in 1999 by renowned sculptor Vic Payne, the gallery represents more than 60 artists and features a mix of representational, impressionist, and traditional paintings and sculptures, as well as a large selection of Western artifact reproductions and furniture. About half of the works are Western and half traditional, but the gallery also carries some abstract pieces. “About three years ago, the trend was for more modern works, but lately there’s been a resurgence of demand for this type of art,” says gallery owner Adam Warner. “People seem to love Western art even if their other furnishings are contemporary, and they’ll successfully incorporate a few select pieces into an urban apartment in New York City or Los Angeles.”

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Blackfoot Evening by Mark Gibson

“A lot of our artists are true cowboys,” adds gallery manager Erin Evans. Antonio Di Donato, for one, may have grown up in Italy watching spaghetti westerns, but he eventually moved to Riverton, Utah, to pursue the cowboy life and paint. Artist Gerry Metz is enamored with Western lore, and his paintings depict events taken from early 19th-century journals.Opened in 1999 by renowned sculptor Vic Payne, the gallery represents more than 60 artists and features a mix of representational, impressionist, and traditional paintings and sculptures, as well as a large selection of Western artifact reproductions and furniture. About half of the works are Western and half traditional, but the gallery also carries some abstract pieces. “About three years ago, the trend was for more modern works, but lately there’s been a resurgence of demand for this type of art,” says gallery owner Adam Warner. “People seem to love Western art even if their other furnishings are contemporary, and they’ll successfully incorporate a few select pieces into an urban apartment in New York City or Los Angeles.”

Gloria D, some of whose pieces are displayed in the Smithsonian and have been used as costumes in the films Dances with Wolves and Hidalgo, creates replicas of spears, decorative deer hides, tunics, and other clothing, using an authentic process handed down by her husband’s grandfather, a Lakota Sioux. In a more current perspective, Denise Barker celebrates a childhood spent on a dairy farm in Logan, Utah, with paintings of cows, calves, and agricultural landscapes.

The Western focus has helped foster a creative community around Mountain Trails. “Some of our artists have been with us for 15 to 20 years,” Warner says, “but we are just as excited about our well-known, museum-quality artists who are now in their 80s as we are about new, up-and-coming artists. We get fired up to see them grow and develop.”

The gallery is perhaps best known for its monumental bronzes. Main Street visitors can hardly miss the 13-foot-high, 1,000-pound structure that sits on the sidewalk outside the gallery’s front door. Vic Payne’s When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted depicts a Native American hunter being attacked by a cougar and is quite the attention-grabber. Typically, these bronzes are made in editions of 35, and then the mold is destroyed. While some of these larger-than-life pieces are commissioned for commercial spaces, about 95 percent of them are sold to clients for their personal residences in Florida, Texas, Colorado, and as far away as Australia. “They appeal to out-of-town guests because they evoke the wildness of the old West and the history of the area,” Evans says.

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Clockwise: Blowing Up a Storm by Krystii Melaine, Crimson Brilliance by Troy Collins, and Blessing of the Bear by Dave McGary 

Because of their mass and weight, it takes some effort and planning to deliver these sculptures to their new homes. Large bronzes are wrapped and loaded by crane onto flatbed trucks, and once they arrive at their destination, Warner flies out to oversee the installation. Most pieces of this size are then lifted by crane, stabilized on a base of stone, wood, or concrete, and placed in gardens, yards, or driveway cul-de-sacs.

Although the pieces may disperse far and wide, the Park City gallery space remains central to the Mountain Trails mission. “We like to have artists in here working and interacting with guests so that clients can see how pieces are created,” Warner says. “The process of working with bronze is a fairly complicated and lengthy one, so a sculptor might work on a clay mold in the gallery and invite guests to help by learning how to shape it and adhere it to the base. We like to make it fun!”

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