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Artist hits a home run

Hayden sculptor sells piece to the Texas Rangers baseball team

Autumn Phillips

On Saturday, friends and teammates surrounded Buck Showalter, manager of the Texas Rangers, as they honored him with the Manager of the Year award from Major League Baseball.

In recognition of his hard work, the team handed Showalter a small sculpture by Hayden artist Pat Zabel. The piece, titled “American Original,” depicts an American cowboy riding an American quarter horse and carrying the American flag.

Zabel’s sculpture ended up in the hands of the Rangers’ manager by pure chance. “American Original” was cast in an edition of 30. (Showalter received No. 7.)

Zabel sold one of the sculptures to a Florida couple that happens to live next door to Texas Rangers General Manager John Hart.

Hart saw the piece and knew it would be a perfect gift for Showalter.

“This has been a pretty popular piece,” Zabel said.

Zabel received a phone call requesting the piece in early January — hardly enough time to order another copy of the sculpture from the foundry. But by a twist of fate, Zabel happened to have one copy at his home that he had just taken out of a gallery.

Zabel left Hayden on Thursday for Dallas to be present at the award ceremony in the Rangers’ clubhouse.

The statue’s sale is a big step for Zabel, who is in the process of establishing himself nationwide as an artist. Since he bought the clay for “American Original,” the piece has been changing his life.

“This is a catalyst piece for me,” Zabel said. “When I started making it in 2003, I decided that I was going to go for it (as an artist). It’s a mental attitude, like when you crawl on a bronc. If you want something, you have to commit. There is no overnight success in life.”

Zabel submitted his resignation to Seneca Coal Co., where he had worked for 10 years, and he walked into his art studio with a new outlook on the sculpture he was making. He was 45 years old and ready to make his art full time.

As he sculpted the clay that would become “American Original,” he was trying to convey the cowboy attitude, he said.

“There’s a ruggedness and individuality, but a lot of cowboys are also good family men. They work hard, but they are also free spirits.”

Zabel spent his younger years as a professional bareback and saddle bronc rider.

The model for the cowboy in “American Original” is the pickup man.

“When you get done riding, the pickup man rides into the arena and helps you crawl off the horse,” Zabel said. “A lot of them are old rodeo cowboys. The pickup man has to be a good cowboy. He can ride with the best. He can rope. He knows it all.”

The pickup man is the unsung hero of the rodeo.

At the beginning of many rodeos, the pickup man rides into the arena at full gallop carrying the American flag.

“Whenever the flag passes, you take your hat off,” Zabel said. “There’s a lot of American pride at the rodeo.”

As Zabel worked on “American Original,” he kept pushing himself to be better than he had been before. It took him a year to finish the piece.

Since Zabel committed himself to his art, the sales have been good, and the ideas have been flowing. He’s finally living the life he always imagined for himself.

Since “American Original,” Zabel has completed 18 new pieces. He spends hours in the studio every day, becoming more ambitious with each sculpture.

Right now, he is working on a large piece depicting the real Texas Rangers.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy artist like Charlie Russell. I wanted to be a real cowboy and have a log cabin studio. And a lot of that’s happened, in a modern way.”


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