The Art of Lisa Perry
 The Texas Thoroughbred     November 1993      By Brock Sheridan

Bringing Her Life to Bronze 

    Her works sits in the Governorís mansion in Kentucky.  It adorns the living rooms, mantels and dens of D. Wayne Lukas.  Clarence & Dorothy Scharbauer, Jack Klugman, past presidents of the Jockey Club, the King Ranch and TTBA President Marshall Robinson.  It can be seen at the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Ranching Heritage Center an the Cowboy Artists of America Center and in front of the Ft. Worth Coliseum in the historical stockyards.    

    She has been honored with the "Best of Show" awards at the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the Texas Women Western Artists show and the American Academy of Equine Art.  She won the best of show in metal sculpture at the Ducks Unlimited National Wildlife Art Show and has won the George Phippen Family award .  In 1985 she was given the Governor's Award for artist of the year in her home state of Montana.  In 1991 she was presented the Founders Award at the American Academy of Equine Artists Show.    

    She is Lisa Perry of Springtown, Texas and one of the more acclaimed bronze sculpturists in the United States.  Although her list of awards and accomplishments seem almost endless, it was only 13 years ago that she produced her first professional bronze of a bucking horse that she sold for "$800 or $1000, I don't remember," Perry said.    
In the late 1970's, Lisa Perry and her husband George moved to Weatherford, Texas from Montana where George would manage the Baker Ranch.    

    Lisa Perry had been interested in art and western sculptures during her childhood when she spent hours after school in the Montana State Historical Museum in Helena admiring the sculptures and beeswax cowboy models by artist Charles M. Russell.  She would gaze at the art collections almost every day while waiting for her father to finish his work as the assistant attorney general in the state capitol building across the street.    

    She eventually went to Montana State where she majored in art and met George, who like her had an interest in horses.  The couple soon married and began making a living in the horse business with bucking horses, racing horses, and producing amateur rodeos.    

    "There was a long gap between those afternoons in the museum and actually sitting down and working on my first piece."  Lisa Perry said.  "I had some wax sitting around that I'd had for a long time because it was something that I always wanted to do.  Not necessarily do it for a living, but just try a piece.  When we were at the Baker Ranch, I took the wax out of the closet and started it.  That was in 1980."    

    Perry's work was instantly popular and was quickly in demand.  So much so that George forwent his position at the Baker Ranch to assist Lisa full-time with her new business.  "She sold her first two pieces and took some orders and made half my annual salary in one night," George Perry said.  "She quickly did that a few more times and we had to think about that."    
George is still very much involved in the business that now includes equine jewelry, assisting in the creation of the bronzes, bracelets, pins, and rings at home and at the foundry in Center Point, Texas.    

    While the "crazy demand for Perry's work" during the middle 1980's subsided with the plunging price of oil, her work continues to keep her and George and some ten other assistants and workers at the foundry busy seven days a week.  "We work so much out of necessity," Lisa Perry said, "We have 50 bronzes for the Quarter Horse Association that are on order now and three new ones they want done - and the bear."    

    The "bear"  is a monumental size prehistoric bear that was commissioned by Texas Tech University through a national competition that Perry won.  Texas Tech owns an archeological site on the edge of Lubbock with evidence of animals and Clovis man that lived there about 10,000 years ago.  Even though the archeological digging continues on the site, it is being transformed into a state historical park, donned by life-size monuments of these prehistoric animals.    

    Two years ago, Perry was asked to submit her rendition of this prehistoric bear based on archeologists' drawings of the bear's skeleton.  Perry's research then took her to the San Antonio Zoo to view a distant relative of the prehistoric bear, called the South American Speckled bear which resides in North America.  She then visited the University of Texas paleoanthropology lab in the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin where she found two prehistoric bear skulls which she measured and photographed.    

    "Of all the wild places this job has taken me," Perry said, " I think rummaging around through all of those dusty bones in Austin was the craziest."    

    "I basically built the thing by building a skeleton and muscling him out.  He doesn't look very much like a bear.  It's more like a lion's skull than a bears skull.  Whether it looks right, I don't know.  I feel a lot more comfortable doing horses."    
It is that comfort and her knowledge of horses acquired through a lifetime of experience that gives Perry the base and beginning of each equine piece.    

    When Perry begins sculpting a horse or horses, she begins a very laborious and meticulous task of reproducing the individual animal.  While she painstakingly measures, video tapes and photographs a specimen, she also acquaints herself with the horse by spending countless hours watching the horse relax, play and perform.    
Perry's measurements include, but are not limited to the height of the horse at the whithers, the length of his head, shoulder, forearm, cannon bone, hip, width of hips, length between buddock and stifle and buddock and point of hip, width of chest and length of under line.    

    "I measure the width of the bones," Perry said.  "I try to expose those measurements in whatever sculpting I'm working on.  If I'm doing somebody's individual horse, I measure the width of the muzzle and the width between the eyes and length of the ears, things like that.  If you think about taking a 25 inch shoulder and transposing that down to a horse that is eight inches in the whithers, that is a pretty tiny measurement.  You have to look at their outstanding characteristics - what makes them look different.  You exaggerate that just a little and that's what makes a small piece look like the subject."    

    Perry was asked if there is any measurements shared by all of the great horses she has measured and she replied with a laugh, "that's what I'm trying to figure out so that we can win a lot of races.  There is the neck length, the shoulder and the girth.  I don't think I've ever found a great horse that wasn't fairly long in those measurements.  The really good sprinters are longer than they are tall.  They don't actually have a real long leg on them, but they have a long stride because of the length of their hip, the slope of the shoulder and the long underline give them a lot of reach."    

    Once measurements and video and photos are taken, Perry creates a rough piece then returns to again visit the horse.  She often works on the piece while viewing the horse from an outdoor studio setup near the horses pasture, paddock or stall.    
"I like to watch horses, " she said.  "I always have liked to watch horses and their personalities.  And I think that's what makes a piece of art reflect a horse too.  There's  measurement characteristics, but an awful lot of an animal is in his personality and you just have to watch them to pick that out."    

    "Good horses have an attitude.  I watch the way they carry themselves, the look in their eye and the way they move their ears.  Horses have a presence and are very individualized."    

    "The ones that have just come off the track are the biggest hams.  The really good ones like the attention.  They're used to being admired."    

    "I guess that's one of the things I like most about sculpting, is being around the great horses."    
Perry likes sculpting race horses the most because, "it gets in your blood," she says.  "We've had race horses for 21 years now.  First it was our business and now, because sculpting keeps us so busy, its just a hobby.  Occasionally I like to do other things though, like this bear."    

    One of Perry's more famous non-equine sculptures is a monumental sculpture of the legendary cowboy Bill Picket that sits in front of the Ft. Worth Coliseum in the historic stockyards.  This sculpture entitled "The First Bulldoger" was commissioned by the City of Ft. Worth as an official Texas Sesquicentennial project and has become a Ft. Worth landmark.  "A lot of times I see it in something  and it's kind of surprising," Perry said.  "I've talked to people clear across the country who have seen that piece and they don't have any idea who sculpted it."    

    Even though people may not know the artist behind some of her work, whether it's a horse, a bulldoger or a bear, their admiration remains constant - very high.