By Norman Kolpas
to fall over Sugar City, CO, as mall town on the prairie about 130
miles southeast of Denver. As shadows stretch across the ground,
Jan Mapes rides on horseback through the sagebrush. Having checked
on the cattle she and her husband Jim winter on their ranch, shes
heading back to the stable.
Suddenly a jackrabbit
darts across her path. The horse doesnt shy away, thought
in fact, he all but quivers in anticipation. Jan and Jim
have prepared him well as part of their cutting horse operation,
in which they train steeds to separate individual cattle from the
herd out on the range.
Jan Mapes, He da Man, Bronze, 16" x 12" x 6"
Mapes digs in
her heels and tweaks the reins, turning in pursuit of the jackrabbit.
Working as teammates finely attuned to each other, she and her mount
chase the rabbit back and forth through the sagebrush as it wheels
and darts, its ears back, its head extended, its big hind feed coiled
to spring. At last, the rabbit disappears in the undergrowth.
in her horse and pauses. As the last traces of daylight fade, she
replays the scene in her mind, noting the angle and shape of the
rabbits ears, the stretch of its head and feet, and
the ripple of its lean, strong muscles beneath velvet fur.
Then, ingressions fully absorbed, she turns her horse toward home
with a touch of her heels and a flick of the rein.
Jan Mapes, Itchin' Post, Bronze Edition 15, 15" x 14" x 9"
is not in my hands but heart what I want to paint," the great
western artist Charles M. Russell once wrote to a friend. Mapes
a western artist to the core follows in Russells
tradition, both in her subject matter and in the depth of heart
she puts into her sculpture. That passion, coupled with natural
talent, has been growing in her since early childhood. "It
didnt really start out as a love of the West, though
just a love of the outdoors and nature," Mapes says.
Her dad, an
Air Force colonel, kept the family traveling to various postings
in the United States and Germany. Through all the changes, one touchstone
remained constant for young Jan: her grandparents little ranch
in Hope, AR, where the family spent a few weeks every summer. "The
small-town rural life appealed to me," Mapes remembers. "My
main concern was the horses. One time, when we were about to go
home, I was so much in love with a paint pony named Diamond that
I took my mothers lipstick from her purse and drew hearts
all over him. Inside the hearts I wrote Jan + Diamond
and I love you."
Jan Mapes, Rabbit Brush, Bronze, 16" x 20"
In 1969, when
Mapes was in ninth grade, her dad retired from the service. After
she spent six blissful months with her grandparents in Hope to finish
out the school year, the family moved to castle Rock, CO, in the
eastern foothills of the Rampart Range just south of Denver. Instantly,
she recalls, "the West and the mountains appealed to me. I
thought to myself, Yes, cowboys! and Yes, horses!"
One thing she
didnt say "Yes!" to, however, was art. Although
she had sketched incessantly since early childhood, art didnt
seem like a reasonable career. "Somewhere along the line, I'd
decided that art was supposed to be your hobby," says Mapes,
"that you didnt do it for a living." After graduating
from high school in 1972, she earned a two-year degree in equine
training and management followed by a bachelors degree in
earth science from the University of Northern Colorado.
Jan Mapes, Senor Rapido, Bronze Edition of 15, 14" x 6" x 17"
Her reason for
taking that course of study was simple. "I asked myself, What
job can I do to get the summers off and spend time outdoors with
horses?" She became a science teacher at Castle Rock
her passion for horses and the outdoors led her to both her true
companion and her true calling. In 1978, while helping out neighboring
ranchers with their spring branding and fall roundups, she met Jim
Mapes, a young Texas-born rancher and her ideal man. "He loved
horses, he loved ranching, and he loved taking care of the land,"
she says. Two years later, they married.
changed Mapes attitude toward art almost instantly. On their
honeymoon in Santa Fe, NM, she remembers, she and Jim toured galleries
filled with sculpture. "The work overwhelmed me with its sensuality.
I just had to try it myself."
Jan Mapes, Twist n Shout, Bronze Edition of 15, 16" x 15" x 9"
in Colorado, she bought some clay. When a four-day blizzard a few
months later made her feel stir-crazy trapped in the house, she
started sculpting. "I did a piece that showed two horse heads
and their necks." Mapes recalls, with their ears back
and their mouths open, squabbling with each other. Maybe I did it
because I was annoyed by the snowstorm. So I called it TICKED OFF."
At the urging of friends, she cast the sculpture in bronze. An edition
of 10 sold out.
husbands encouragement, Mapes quit teaching to devote herself
to ranching and art. "Jim told me life is about being happy
and that he knew I could make it work," she says. After 10
years of managing the Greenland Ranch, the couple moved to Sugar
City in 1990 to set up their own cattle and cutting-horse operation.
while, Mapes slowly but surely built her reputation as a sculptor.
Each year since 1995, one of her works has captured a top award
from the La Junta, CO, Fine Arts League. And in 1997, she won two
awards at the prestigious Knickerbocker Artists 45th
Grand International Open Juried Exhibition.
Jan Mapes, Tom Foolery, Bronze Edition of 11, 30" x 20" x 31"
theres only so much art a person can do while leading a ranching
life. Thats why Mapes with her husbands full
support built a separate studio for herself at the ranch
in the summer of 1997. "I decided to make art a full
time commitment," she says. "Jim hired on other people
and, thought Im welcome to do any of the ranch work I want
to, Im not required."
she devotes five good hours a day, five days a week, to studio work.
"The rest of the time," she says, "Im out there
working the cattle or training the horses." In short, shes
still gathering tremendous inspiration for her art right from the
Jan Mapes, Sumo Toad, Bronze Edition of 15, 4" x 5" x 5"
in her production of sculptures, from one a year to 12, has been
dramatic. So, too, has the improvement in her work. More and more,
Mapes relies on subtle technique to convey her vision. "I like
to use a lot of texture to create pathways through and around the
piece, with soft edges where I want your eye to move on and harder
edges to stop you," she says. "When youre not bound
up in detail, youre free to express the emotional side of
the piece, to create the mood."
some of her latest works and you can see the emotional connection
she emphasizes. In HIGH TALIN IT, a life-size version of the
earlier LICKETY-SPLIT, you can feel the jackrabbits sheer
joy in running. SCRATCH-N-SNIFF shows two old longhorns, one languorously
scratching his back while the other takes the measure of the air.
"Theyre survivors," Mapes explains of the pairs
quite dignity. "They show the spirit of the West."
Jan Mapes, Scratch n Sniff, Bronze, 20" x 17"
her portrayal of the western spirit has ventured into human territory
yet another sign of her growing maturity as an artist. In
WAY OUT WEST, Mapes portrays a rip-roarin cowgirl in a Wild
West show. "Shes a petite little gal, but shes
got a big spirit," says the artist.
to her heart is BODY AND SOUL, a work commissioned for and about
to be unveiled at the new wing of the Arkansas Valley Regional Medical
Center in La Junta. "They wanted to commemorate the Mennonites
for their involvement in health care in our area since way back
in the early 1900s," says Mapes. Following the form of
a rising spiral, the sculpture shows a nurse sitting on a stool,
playing with a child held by its mother in one arm; in her other
hand the mother holds a Bible, and a doctor stands behind her, helping
turn the pages. "Hospitals heal bodies," Mapes explains
of the sculptures message, "but the Mennonites healed
the soul as well."
too, has the power to touch the soul, and Mapes hopes hers can do
just that. "My goal," she says, musing at the end of another
day of art and ranching, "is to capture the spirit and beauty
of this earthly experience, and to encourage others to see, feel,
enjoy and appreciate it."
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