Pieces of Chris Navarro are scattered everywhere around his hometown of Casper. They’ll be there long after he is dead and gone.
Maybe thousands of years in the future — say, the year 3056 — a grandfather will point out to his grandson that magnificent statue of Jesus on CY Avenue and remark, “I heard about the guy who made that.”
That thought rests well with the 67-year-old artist; leaving a life’s work in bronze for generations to enjoy.
Navarro is a sculptor by trade and choice, and he’s been doing it for more than 37 years. He made the mindful decision to go all in for his art when he was 23, carving out a career that’s gone from promising to popular, with more than 400 works of art in circulation, including more than two dozen outdoor life-sized sculptures in Casper alone.
In Care Of Casper
When they cut the ribbon on his “6 Miles South” bronze at the entrance of the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds this month, it’ll make 16 such works Navarro has in his hometown, something he is chronicling on Facebook.
Like many of his pieces, the first of the local 16 was done at the behest of Casper resident Della Works, who was looking for a way to remember and honor her son who lost his life while flying in Alaska. “Eagle Against the Sun” is a 10-foot bronze and stainless-steel sculpture on Center and 1st streets finished in 1994.
One of Navarro’s more unique pieces, and one that he will never forget, is his “Best Friends” sculpture at Park Elementary School. It features a boy reading to his dog in the center of a brick sitting wall on school grounds.
“I started visiting a little with the parents — Rocky and Lisa Eades — who wanted a way to remember their son Jason, who died of cancer when he was 9,” Navarro told Cowboy State Daily. “They said their border collie, Sage, would stay faithfully by his side when he became sick.
“That was 28 years ago, and my own son was about the same age at the time, so I used him as a model. Sage later had a litter of puppies and we had one for almost 14 years.”
Navarro smiles to himself whenever he drives by and sees students gathered and sitting around Jason and Sage.
The Tobin Collaborations
Navarro is also especially proud of the commissioned pieces he did for longtime local Marialyce Tobin. The work was a first for him — the use of light within a sculpture.
“She had the idea of a dinosaur with light coming out of it. The only way I figured I could show that was by making a T. rex half skeletal,” Navarro said.
With “Essence of Rex” finished and erected for the Tate Museum at Casper College in 2014, Navarro again worked with Tobin a year later. This time, the idea was another statue with light emanating from within.
On a scale with Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer,” Navarro created the “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” which stands 17 feet tall at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on CY Avenue.
It was Tobin’s vision to convey the idea that the Savior would tower over Casper’s main drag, arms outstretched in protection of the city. Navarro and Tobin worked together to get the emotion just right.
“It’s hard to sculpt subtle facial expressions like wisdom and compassion,” Navarro admitted.
But in the end, Navarro likes the way it came out and says the artwork is one of his favorites because of it.
A final work for Tobin was finished Oct. 31, 2021. With Tobin frail and weak at the age of 97, Navarro promised he would hurry and have “Mary Mother of Grace” finished by then if she could just hang on that long.
Marialyce Barrett Tobin died at home on Aug. 28, 2021. It made Navarro sad to think that his friend, who had so much love for the city of Casper, was not there physically to see the dedication at the Lusk Cemetery.
Probably Navarro’s most well-known piece is the one that jump-started his career in 1993.
“Champion Lane Frost” is a 15-foot monument of the rodeo legend who died in 1989 while bull riding at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
To fund the work, Navarro sold maquettes, miniature scale models of what would be the finished statue. At $1,000 a pop, the limited-edition tabletop sculptures would end of being a collector’s item worth far more in the end.
For more than a decade, the struggling artist hadn’t much to show — at least in the bank account — for his efforts. Navarro now has studios in Casper and Sedona, Arizona. He also uses the state’s only two foundries — Eagle Bronze in Lander and Caleco in Cody — where raw materials are heated and cast.
The Casper artist is still on the hustle these days.
“I paint, I draw, I do photography. I have 14 videos on YouTube. I’ve written four books,” Navarro said. “You’ve got to wear a lot of hats to be an artist.
“I remember when I was 23 years old and didn’t have much going for me. I was self-educated and hungry and knew I wanted to do this all my life.”
Navarro will hold a dedication ceremony for his latest piece “6 Miles South” at the entrance to the Industrial Building, Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper on Sept. 9 at 2 p.m.
It will be his 16th large outdoor statue in Casper, and not likely his last.
“Casper is my hometown and I want to leave this legacy,” Navarro said. “These pieces don't wear, they don't rust. They’ll be there for thousands of years, maybe.”