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When no one is looking

Autumn Phillips

Gail — a woman who has a one-word name — was hard at work in her Sedona, Ariz., studio, her hands covered in clay, when a fellow sculptor walked into the room.

“You can’t sculpt it like that,” he said. “Women don’t sit like that with their knees apart.”

His comment pulled her out of her artistic meditation.

“You don’t know what women do when they are by themselves,” she said.

In her series of sculptures of six Western women, the subjects are captured during unguarded moments.

“None of these girls know anyone is watching,” Gail said. “They are just doing what they do. They’re not putting on airs or doing anything for anyone but themselves.”

Of all the women cast in bronze through the years, Gail’s pieces are different for the simple reason that they are created by a woman. The “eye” of the artist seems less that of a voyeur and more that of an empath.

The series of Western women tells the story of a time in Gail’s teenage years, growing up in rural Arizona. Her mother trusted her, at age 7, to explore for miles around on horseback.

“Near my house, there was a canyon that you can’t see from a distance,” she said. “The canyon walls were 250 feet down to the water, and horses can’t climb down cliffs. It’s hot and dry, and you can hear the water. It’s a very inviting spot.”

To reach the water, Gail would hobble her horse and climb down a chimney to the bottom of the canyon.

The Western women sculptures that will be a part of today’s show include “Testing the Waters,” a nude woman sticking her toe in the water to test the temperature. In “Spring Fantasy,” the woman is in the water, pouring water over herself with a cowboy hat. The patina is thick but transparent to look like water.

The series ends with “Sittin’ Pretty,” the piece whose knees Gail’s sculptor friend thought were too far apart.

“She’s a working cowgirl, but it’s the weekend,” Gail said. “She sits on a stool in her camisole, trying on earrings.”

All the sculptures are one-third of life-size, designed for indoor use on a wooden base.

This will be Gail’s first time showing her work in Steamboat. After this show, she plans to be less focused on the Western women series and more focused on a new set of imagery. She recently took care of a friend who was dying of lung cancer and, last June, she finished a portrait of the man called “No Riding Job.” Instead of a ranch job on horseback, Gail’s bronze cowboy is digging postholes.

He’s tired, wiping his forehead with his forearm and looking into the distance. Time will tell whether Gail knows what men do when no one is looking.


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