Starting Quarter Horse colts for Copper Spring Ranch and creating western bronze sculptures and paintings is a perfect marriage for Miles City cowboy Brett Badgett.
During most days, the 31-year-old cowboy spends long hours in the round pen or out in the pastures at the ranch applying his fine touch as a horseman to start and train a number of well-bred young Quarter horses.
This grip on the true ranching lifestyle is reflected in Badgett’s bronzes and oils that are coveted by collectors and galleries across the country.
His work has appeared in America’s Horse magazine and his half life-sized work, titled “Layin The Trip,” is in the sculpture garden at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, CO. This is just a sample of the nation-wide interest in Badgett’s bronze sculptures and paintings.
But Badgett’s repertoire extends well beyond the traditional west-of-the-Mississippi fare. For example, sculptures like his fiddle playing “Old Time River Man” and his banjo player “Ending Lick” demonstrate the breadth of his talent.
On display in NYC
In July, Badgett left his colts behind and flew to the concrete canyons of New York City with Copper Spring Ranch managers Gary and Sandie Metcalf; and parents Pam and Wally Badgett of Miles City, for an opening of his work at the posh Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in the Chelsea area of Manhattan.
Displaying the works of a Montana-artist certainly attracted attention, a Wall Street Journal writer noticed the cowboy-group talking to a New York City policewoman. As it turned out, Badgett had been to New York City before the art show to help the police department gentle some of their horses. As a result, the Journal photographer followed the contingent around the city and published a feature about Badgett and his support crew from the Big Sky State on July 20 under the title: “The Sculptor is Also a Colt Whisperer.”
Horsemanship a form of art
“Breaking colts and working as an artist are both art forms,” Badgett noted recently while taking a break from dealing with salty young horses.
Working at the ranch is a perfect environment, Badgett said, because ranch managers encourage him to pursue riding and artwork since they see the value in both projects. Badgett said starting colts helps his creative projects because he doesn’t miss the intricacies of the actual working ranch world. “One sort of compliments the other,” he said, “so it all fits together with my art.
“I just don’t do pretty horses,” he noted. “A broncy horse is romantic to me. I don’t do stuff to be pretty but instead create something that is part of the real ranching scene.” The artist said he works hard to move his interpretations to another level that goes beyond simple literal interpretations.
“I want to have enough of an anatomical understanding so I don’t make mistakes when creating sculptures,” he noted.
“I like to show the texture of the material – the clay – I am working with. Remember, clay is an organic material and it has its own life, so it helps to give the work a subtle abstract touch and more energy.”
Badgett thinks a lot of western art becomes a formula-like cliché, but he is still hooked on the theme.
“I tried to get away from the Western recipe point of view but I couldn’t do that totally because it was so much a part of my foundation and way of life. It’s who I am and I can’t separate the two. You and your mind eventually become the subject matter of your work regardless of what you paint.”
Badgett’s father, Wally, is also an artist and the creator of the popular “Earl” comic strip. “My dad was always drawing pictures and that had a huge impact,” he recalled.
As Badgett grew up, he had a Will James painting of horses being roped in a corral with a snubbing post center, called “Smoky and the Snubbing Post” hanging on his bedroom wall.
Like most western artists, Badgett was influenced by the classic works of Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington. “These guys got it right the first time so no modern ‘western art’ is truly original.”
Contemporary artists T.D. Kelsey of Gutherie, TX, and Jeff Wolf of Cedar City, UT, have also caught Badgett’s attention. “T.D. is more impressionistic and Jeff taught me to include some touches of the classical approach. Both are cowboys and Jeff is also a buckaroo,” he said.
Harold Schlotzhauer, in the MSU art department, also got Badgett thinking about what is happening outside of a canvas. “Just because it is not actually on the canvas it is still there.” Abstract art, Badgett said, still has to be well
“I try my hardest to move my interpretations to another level,” he said, “to give them more intellectual depth.”
Horses go hand-in-hand
The artist feels training and being around horses needs to be an integral part of his life. “It’s important because it’s how I was raised and I can’t function without horses,” he added.
Badgett has obtained plenty of experience with horses since he grew up in the Miles City and Ashland ranching communities of eastern Montana. He is a fourth generation Montanan and as a pure cowboy as one can find. His father, Wally, now coaches rodeo at Miles City Community College and was a collegiate and professional rodeo contestant who qualified for the 1974 PRCA National Finals Rodeo.
From the time he was a youth, he has been part of the authentic ranching community. Badgett graduated from Miles Community College in 1999 and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Montana State University (MSU) in 2002. While at MSU, he competed in tie-down and team roping on a rodeo scholarship.
After graduation, he spent five years traveling the nation with several noted horsemen.
Like his art work, Badgett feels his horsemanship skills are truly another art form.
“I like the two rein and spade bit progression that comes out of the Southwest tradition vaquero and I’ve adopted that approach,” he said. “I think it’s a mental discipline as well as a physical skill. A horse you finish is also a signature of you and your work.”
Badgett said he takes both his art work and his colt training seriously, as expected.
“Basically, you can spend a lifetime trying to pursue and get better at interacting with the horse’s mind and four feet,” he said.
Starting and training colts is still at the top of Badgett’s priority list.
“While I am physically able I want to go as far as I can with the horses before I settle down in the studio on a full-time basis.”