CHEYENNE — Dreams are often insubstantial things, fading quickly the moment eyelids flutter open.
Not so for Harvey Deselms.
The Cheyenne art dealer and collector had a dream 15 years ago of bronze statues populating Cheyenne streets. That dream has come to life, with no fewer than 62 bronzes now lining the streets around the Wyoming Capitol, and more are on the way.
Each of the statues captures a thread of unique Wyoming history or culture.
There’s Esther Hobart Morris, the first woman justice of the peace in the United States and an instrumental figure in the women’s suffrage movement, and there’s Nellie Tayloe Ross, the nation's first female governor.
There’s Chief Washakie, the famous Shoshone leader known for his prowess both as warrior and statesman, and there’s Wyoming author Mary O’Hara, who wrote “The Green, Green Grass of Wyoming” and “My Friend Flicka.”
Not all of the bronzes are of famous people. Some are ordinary folk, and some are stand-ins for legendary ideas.
The Duster, for example, represents the cattle barons and cowboys who staked their fortunes, and sometimes their lives, on Wyoming.
Rarin’ to Ride represents the spirit of the West, with a child clutching a saddle almost as large as himself, eyes wide beneath the brim of a large cowboy hat, clearly eager to ride off on some adventure far away in the distance.
A Statue For All Seasons
All of Cheyenne’s statues are made using foundry bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, that Deselms said will last thousands of years.
In fact, bronze alloys have long been used for statues and artwork, and there are examples from antiquity that have already demonstrated their durability. Among the oldest is Dancing Girl, a statue that dates back to 2500 B.C.
To maintain the luster of Cheyenne’s bronzes, however, they are rinsed periodically and rubbed with patina wax to further protect them from the elements. That will also help keep them looking like bronze for centuries.
Otherwise, just like Lady Liberty, they would turn green.
Each of the Cheyenne bronzes weighs between 100 to 200 pounds and stands on a sandstone pedestal that weighs 500 to 600 pounds. The cost, on average, for each is around $35,000 to make, Deselms told Cowboy State Daily.
Some are more and some less, but at 62 statues, that average makes Cheyenne’s bronze collection worth more than $2 million.
The worth of a thing, however, is not always in how precious the metal or how much the cost.
Deselms and his partner, Nathanial Trelease, chairman of the Capitol Avenue Bronze Project, see the value of the statues more in how they’re luring people into Wyoming and Cheyenne history. They’ve both seen visitors posing for selfies with the statues during all seasons with big smiles on their faces and curiosity sparkling in their eyes.
If those visitors are later encouraged to pull out a tome of Wyoming history to read more about what they’ve seen in the Cowboy State, so much the better.
That’s one of the points behind the whole project.
“Wyoming is the smallest of the 50 states (in population), but its story deserves to be told,” Trelease said. “And, for me, that’s the inspiration, to make sure that the story is told and lives on, and that there’s just more respect for the state by the people who live here and by the people who visit here.”
Now and then, Trelease talks to the people he sees taking selfies with the statues he and Deselms have brought to life, to take the measure of their interest.
He’s almost always satisfied by what he hears.
“I’ve had people talk to me from all over the world, from Peru, and Argentina, or Russia, or just simply tourists — mothers and older daughters visiting from Texas even — and they’re like, ‘We had no idea,” Trelease told Cowboy State Daily. “We had no idea about Esther Hobart Morris or Nellie Tayloe Ross and women’s suffrage. We had no idea about any of these figures.’ And that is wonderful to see.”
Deselms recalls the dream that started Cheyenne’s bronze project like it was yesterday, even though it was almost 15 years ago.
“The dream was about this crazy thing,” he said.
In the dream, the doctors in town had come to him, wanting statues to line House Avenue from the corner of 16th Street on up to the hospital’s entrance at the corner of 23rd.
But they didn’t want giant bronzes in this dream. They wanted smaller bronzes, so more doctors could participate.
Deselms in his dream decided the scope of such a project was going to require more money than all the doctors could afford. So he went to the next most logical place, Cheyenne’s pharmacists.
They were enthusiastic about the idea, but they wanted their statues to be very secure. So, dream Deselms conceived of a pill-shaped glass enclosure to protect each statue from elements and vandals alike.
The doctors and pharmacists also wanted every statue to be lit up at night.
Imagine it for a moment. Hundreds of lighted bronzes, encased in globes of glass, lining a street that leads to a place devoted to the health and wellness of a community.
“It was just bronzes everywhere,” Deselms said. “And I think I may have done a little skipping along the avenue in the dream. I was just so happy that (all the artists) would have a permanent part of downtown.”
The Real World
In the real world, Deselms’ dream-inspired idea started off quite a bit more modestly. There were no fancy glass enclosures and no cheery nightlights.
In fact, the first statue was a complete stroke of luck.
Deselms took a call from the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of its 2010 Leadership Cheyenne class.
The class is a business and professional development opportunity for business leaders. Each class is tasked with taking on a special, community project.
The 2010 class wanted to do “something different” for their project, and wondered if Deselms had any inspiration for them.
By now, Deselms’ dream had been “bubbling around” in his mind for three or four years. It just wouldn’t leave him alone. It wanted to find its way out into the waking world, where it could finally become real.
So that’s the idea that came bubbling out of Deselms’ mouth, without a second thought. To his surprise. Leadership Cheyenne was quite taken with the idea. They made it happen with proceeds raised during the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Boo Ball.”
The bronze they installed was Duster, to honor all of Wyoming’s first cowboys and cattle barons.
It would take another two years, however before another bronze was installed on Capitol Avenue. This one was designed and sponsored by the late Chuck Weaver, an artist from Cheyenne who grew up on 18th Street. His statue celebrates the lifelong bond wolves have to their mates, as well as the lifelong bond Weaver had for Wyoming.
Things went on like that for the rest of the decade. Every couple of years a new bronze would go up. It wasn’t nothing, and it always made Deselms smile.
But at that rate, it seemed unlikely there would ever be bronzes lining Capitol Avenue like they had House Avenue in his dream.
His dream needed a miracle or an angel to become reality.
Perhaps even both.
No Miracles Here
Instead of a miracle, though, what happened was a pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic.
“After the pandemic, you know, we were all faced with our mortality,” Deselms said. “I think the pandemic really put a sense of urgency on leaving a legacy. Everyone realized, you know, that we have an expiration date, and if I want to do this, I need to do it now.”
One of the people who had been thinking about leaving a legacy to honor his family was Trelease. But nothing had really captured his imagination yet.
He wanted something that lit not just a fire in his mind, but a bonfire.
Then, in 2021, Trelease’s mother died minutes short of her 96th birthday.
Her death was a clarifying moment. Life is not permanent. Tomorrow is not promised. If sometime is not now, then someday may never happen at all.
A month later, as he was admiring bronzes at Deselms’ studio in Cheyenne, Deselms reminded Trelease about the bronze project he was trying to get off the ground.
Deselms had mentioned it to Trelease before. But now Trelease was finally ready to hear. He could finally see the dream’s potential. And perhaps, inside, there was something of an angel at work.
Trelease told Deselms he was interested, but that he believed the project needed some tweaking.
In subsequent days, the two worked out a new vision for making the project happen. There should be a small commission that would push the project forward, they decided. And that commission needed the blessing of Cheyenne’s mayor, Patrick Collins.
The two met with Collins on a cold day with what they hoped was a warm idea.
Perhaps a little miraculously, Collins had not long ago seen a sculpture project in Sheridan and wondered to himself why something similar wasn’t happening in Cheyenne.
So, the bronze project’s small commission was formed with both the mayor’s blessing and a modest plan. They would aim for 28 statues in three years, one for every street corner on Capitol from the Union Pacific Depot to the Capitol itself.
Unexpectedly, however, their revised project immediately attracted six people who wanted to put up a bronze highlighting Wyoming history and culture.
That was one more statue than Deselms had put up in the previous 10 years.
“I become a little emotional sometimes when I think about it,” Deselms told Cowboy State Daily. “Because, you know, I’ve worked so hard for so long, and now that it’s happening, it’s exceeded any of our expectations.”
About That Skipping
Since 2021, momentum has continued to build for the bronze project.
“People are emerging, you know, from obscurity to donate considerable sums of money to have these created,” Trelease said. “And the great thing is, it’s not just the traditional donor class, the names you’re familiar with if you grew up in Cheyenne or Wyoming. It’s a lot of donors, that, as Harvey will attest, have never donated to this level before.”
Trelease believes that’s because the project strikes a chord with Wyomingites who have a deep love for the Cowboy State, and because Wyomingites everywhere like that their story will be told in their capitol, which hosts more than a million tourists every year.
Now, with statues on every street corner leading up to the capitol — and more in the works — Deselms can finally see that the dream he once had of “bronzes everywhere” has become a reality. In fact, there’s so many statues, they’re spreading out onto 17th Street, as well as Carey, Pioneer, Thomas, and O’Neil Avenues besides.
The next two statues that will be installed are already finished. They are Princess Blue Water and Tom Horn.
Deselms admitted, by the way, to doing just a bit of skipping on Capitol Avenue during the bronze project’s official dedication in June — just like he did in his dream on House Avenue.
There’s even a picture of the moment, right there in front of the Capitol.
Deselms is wearing a smile as he lands on the ground, knowing that his dream of bronze statues everywhere has finally been cast in real bronze — for the delight of all Wyoming.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.