Sculptor’s descendents return to Grand Lake
May 15, 2014
It was June of 1873 when the Proctor family first set out from Denver in a covered wagon.
They were heading toward an untamed wilderness high the Rocky Mountains to spend their first vacation at a place called Grand Lake.
Alexander Phimister Proctor was just 13 when his family first made the trek up through Middle Park.
In the years he later spent there, Proctor would meet valiant frontiersman, shoot a charging grizzly and gain a wealth of experience that would later be immortalized in some of America's most iconic western sculptures.
Though he would later live in New York and California, Proctor spent some of his formative years stalking the woods around Grand Lake.
On Saturday, May 10, Proctor's grandsons, "Laddie" Charles Alexander Proctor and "Sandy" Phimister Proctor Church, returned to their grandfather's old homestead, nearly 141 years after Proctor first made the trip.
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The younger generation of Proctors came to Denver for the opening of the Denver Art Museum's exhibition, "The American West in Bronze," which opened May 11. Proctor has seven pieces in the exhibition, alongside works from such preeminent American artists as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.
From there, they made the trip up the mountain to see Proctor's "old stomping grounds."
Though he captured many figures from the American West in his sculptures, Proctor is especially known for his sculptures of animals.
His love of hunting afforded him the opportunity to dissect and analyze the anatomy of animals, which he later recreated with stunning accuracy.
"Proctor was a realist," said Laddie. "He went out of his way to make sure his animals were exact duplicates of the real thing."
Laddie, now 87, knew Proctor more as an affectionate, wily grandfather than as an esteemed sculptor.
"To me he was a grandfather," Laddie said. "He was an artist and sculptor, but to me he was a grandfather."
Laddie's esteem for his grandfather is evident in the stories he tells.
"He was up here someplace sleeping out, and he woke up, and he had a lot of weight on him," Laddie recalled. "He had about one and a half feet of snow on top of him. He was an outdoorsman. No question."
Sandy only knew his grandfather during his later years, though they formed a very special bond.
"His wife had died, and I feel like he poured his love into me," Sandy said.
The grandfather who taught him to throw a lasso and smoke a peace pipe inspired a fascination in Sandy that eventually manifested in 1997 as The Proctor Foundation.
Since then, Sandy and his daughter, Laura Proctor Ames, have worked to perpetuate Proctor's legacy by procuring works of art and other historical artifacts, so that they may be preserved for others to enjoy.
"(Sandy) has spent the majority of his life with a deep passion for his grandfather," said Ames, the foundation's director.
Since its inception, the foundation has also worked to preserve Proctor's 27 monumental statues, two of which are in Denver, and make sure that they have plaques.
Sandy said he has learned a lot about American art history and the American West from researching his grandfather.
"The exciting discoveries have just been fantastic," he said.
Ames, who has been working with her father for 15 years, said it has been a very special experience.
"It's so special to curate something that's meaningful for our family," she said. "I feel like I know (Proctor) through my dad."
The exhibition "The American West in Bronze" will run through August 31 at the Denver Art Museum.
For more information about Proctor or The Proctor Foundation, visit http://proctormuseum.com
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334, ext. 19610