Open plains inspire horse sculptor Alex Alvis

Sculptor Alex Alvis lives with her husband, Mark, in the middle of a vast stretch of high plains grassland off a small dirt road between Wellington and Nunn in northeastern Colorado. Some might view the often windy spot as lonely, even desolate. But for Alvis, wide vistas of land, sky and mountains and the inspiring quiet have given her the sense of freedom that makes it possible for her to create.

All her life, she has loved horses. Birthdays and Christmases growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, she routinely asked for a horse, resulting in a large collection of plastic horses, but never the real thing. She still doesn’t own a real horse, but if she continues to sculpt the animals she’s so passionate about, that day may soon arrive.

Right now, she’s content to be surrounded by the bronze “house horses” she created using a combination of old and new methods. She was first invited to be part of the 30th Annual Loveland Sculpture in the Park Show in August 2013, where she sold three of her delicate sculptures. Of the 160 artists accepted for 2013, only 25 were new invites. Alvis, who had only been sculpting for three years at the time, found herself among elite company.

From the time she was a small child, Alvis’ mother encouraged her interest in art. She took art classes in high school and college but earned a degree in psychology. For a time, she pursued a career in computer-aided design.

An appreciation for transparency led her to create beads using fused glass, but it wasn’t until she found herself engrossed in the Sombrero Roundup in Maybell in 2010, observing thundering herds of horses on their way to summer pasture, that she had an epiphany. “Something came over me,” she said. “There were tears. I knew at that moment that I’d be creating horses.”

“If I couldn’t have a horse, I was going to find a way to have horses around me. If I were a Native American, my totem would be the horse. Horses help me find happiness, peace, and self-understanding. These days she’s surrounded by graceful creatures that spring from her heart and hands and reflect the close connection she feels with horses. They remind me to be present and get out of my own head. My sculptures symbolize hope and optimism,” Alvis said.

Her vision solidified one day while she and Mark were still living on a busy, noisy street in Fort Collins. From a second-floor landing, she envisioned first one then another image of a horse come alive. By the end of that single day, she’d created wire armatures for six horses. When Mark came home from work, he shared in her excitement. A short time later, they were ensconced in rambling Prairie Peak Ranch with big windows all around encouraging the outside to come in. A tiny outbuilding was soon converted into an efficient studio space.

Stylized, with delicate long legs, smooth bodies, and detailed features, her sculpted horses are a representation of both their essence and external physical form. Barefoot and endowed with vibrantly colored patinas, her horses shout freedom and wildness.

In the past, Alvis had used the traditional mediums of ceramic and non-hardening synthetic clays. But after some research, she began to use a special air-dry paperclay manufactured in Japan.

The new clay gave a signature look to her sculptures. “Truly starting from ground zero knowledge of the properties of this medium and having to invent my own creative path with it revealed the creative world I was searching for,” Alvis said.

In a long and rigorous work process that lasts many months and sometimes years after the original conceptualization, she starts each work immediately after imagining it, just as she did with the sculptures in her first series. She draws a sketch, then makes a small model before creating a wire armature that determines gesture, movement and dimension.

Over wire and aluminum, Alvis builds the main sculptural shapes with layers of paperclay, then carves in detail and sands the surface. The result is a fragile, luminous, matte, lightweight sculpture. These pieces are turned into striking limited edition bronze castings using the ancient wax method, a process that unfortunately destroys the original sculpture.

Her sculptures have names like Relax! Itchy, Step High! Look! Watch! and Leap! that describe their poses and expressions. Each has an abstract air that adds to their charm and mystery. All have been cast in bronze in limited editions and come with a certificate of authenticity.

Each horse is part of a series. Lakota Winds represents the Lakota Sioux tribe’s legend of the founding of the four directions. Then there’s the Party Animal series, the Blue Moon series, depicting endangered animals; and the Rocky Mountain series, animals of the Rocky Mountains.

Her newer works are original hand-built sculptures created from paperclay and a layering of many additional materials. The wire, aluminum and paperclay body gets gilded with bronze and copper, various colored pigments and metallic powders, then protected by layers of resin.

“Magical really is magical because it is the first sculpture I have preserved in its original form,” Alvis said. “Almost 6 feet tall, Magical is one in the Party Animal series. This horse, on its way to a costume party dressed as a unicorn, is on display at Art on a Whim Gallery in Breckenridge. It will also be cast in bronze from a 3-D computer-scanned copy of the original.”

Alvis’ sculptures can be seen online at www.EspritEquine.com and in person at Art on a Whim Gallery in Breckenridge and Vail; Rogoway Turquoise Tortoise Gallery in Tubac; Saddle-Up Gallery north of Scottsdale, Ariz.; R.S. Hanna Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas; Brookwood Gallery in Brookshire, Texas, west of Houston; and Frogman Gallery in Beijing, China.

In August 2015, visit her horses at the Loveland Sculpture Show, where she has become a regular.

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