Weapon on Fort Worth's Vaquero Sculpture Draws Fire

Fort Worth Art Commission rejects unapproved change to project's design

By Chris Van Horne
|  Tuesday, May 10, 2011  |  Updated 12:57 AM CDT
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Vaquero de Fort Worth is coming soon to Fort Worth but there's a disagreement over the depictions of a sidearm that wasn't in the original plans.

Chris Van Horne, NBCDFW.com

Vaquero de Fort Worth is coming soon to Fort Worth but there's a disagreement over the depictions of a sidearm that wasn't in the original plans.

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A Vaquero a Decade in the Making

A sculpture of a piece of Fort Worth's cowboy culture is nearing completion. It will stand at the intersection of North Main Street, Central and Ellis avenues.
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The addition of a gun belt and weapon to a Fort Worth sculpture was rejected by the city's art commission Monday.

The Fort Worth Art Commission met to discuss the inclusion of the sidearm, an element that was not in the Fort Worth Vaquero Statue's original design.

Artists David Newton and Tomas Bustos finished their clay sculpture in June before sending it off to a foundry to be turned into bronze. All the while, the statue had a sidearm on the hip of the vaquero, a Mexican cowboy, atop the horse.

The commission voted 6-1 to reject the change.

Fort Worth Public Art will work with the artists to make changes. But because the sculpture is already cast in bronze, it's not clear how the gun and gun belt would be removed -- or if they can be.

The project, which has been in the works since January 2004 and was weeks away from completion, is a collaboration between the city of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Public Art and the Vaquero Core Committee, a group of citizens.

Private funds were used for the project, but public money was also used, so any changes require the Fort Worth Art Commission's approval.

Fort Worth Public Art said it's rare for an artist not to come to the commission to get a change approved.

The Vaquero Core Committee has always opposed the appearance of a weapon, saying it would be historically inaccurate for a farmhand to be armed.

But Newton and Bustos say they found historical photos, documents and depictions of 1890s vaqueros with guns and shared that information with the committee well before the sculpture went to the foundry.

Before Monday's hearing, Newton said the statue was looked at numerous times before and after it went to the foundry. He said the sidearm is something that could be missed but isn't a distraction to the sculpture.

Removing the gun at this point would be "a mutilation of the piece," he said.

Before the meeting, core committee spokesman Judge Manuel Valdez downplayed the issue, saying he hoped to resolve it with the artists.

"This issue that has come up is minor, and I don't think will impair the magnificence of this statue," he said.

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