Local artist Jim Clay has forever captured a life-changing moment in the way of the Comanche Indian in bronze.
The Medlan Chapel Community resident and artist spent 40 years as a newspaperman and 60 as an artist. He worked in Quanah newspapers twice, Roswell, N.M., and Vernon before he came to Graham. He became the co-publisher of The Graham Leader in 1986 with E.B. Harris, and later served as managing editor and head of the press room. Clay, who is almost 80 years old, said he loved working in the newspaper business but has loved art for as long as he can remember.
“I don’t remember when I wasn’t fascinated in drawing,” he said.
During his hours away from the newspaper, Clay has drawn, painted and sculpted hundreds of original works that are now in private collections and businesses across America. As an author, Clay has published “Windmill Country: Llano Estacado and South Plains of Texas.” The book is filled with paintings and drawings of windmills, abandoned homesteads and Comanche Indians, each accompanied by descriptions and brief histories.
After Clay left the newspaper business in 1988, he opened a bronze casting foundry called Windmill Bronze, through which he created his own sculptures and eventually cast sculptures for other artists from the U.S. and Europe.
Then, his casting days were cut short after he suffered two heart attacks due to diabetes.
But that didn’t stop him for good.
These days, Clay still casts using the lost wax method, a process by which a duplicate metal sculpture is cast from an original. Casts can be made of the wax model itself, the direct method, or of a wax copy of a model that need not be made of wax.
In 1990, Clay made one of his most prized-creations, a bronze casting of a Comanche warrior on a horse called “In the Wake of the Hide Hunters.” In this piece, a Comanche warrior solemnly gazes down from his horse at a half-exposed buffalo skeleton shrouded in sand. The purpose of the sculpture, Clay said, was not only to capture a piece of the Comanche history, but to portray a glimpse of life in Young County and North Texas at that time.
Its description is located in a pull-out wooden plaque design just under the glass-encased sculpture. It explains that Comanches depended on buffalo hides for clothing and shelter from the cold. They used buffalo bones to make armor and weapons and the meat to feed their families.
In the 1870s in the Texas Panhandle, Anglo hunters with large rifles could kill buffalo in Comanche territory at a distance of 600 yards. According to Clay’s description of the piece, they did that nearly 200 times a day for $600. By 1886, the once-mighty buffalo dwindled from more than 30 million to less than 1,000. Treaties with the Comanches forbidding white hunters on their hunting grounds were ignored, and Comanche families starved. In a final effort to save themselves, the last band of Comanches rode into Fort Sill and surrendered June 2, 1875.
“He is staring, and is realizing that his way of life is over,” Clay said of the Comanche’s facial expression in the sculpture.
Clay researched for three years before creating the sculpture.
Read more in Wednesday's Graham Leader.