Steamboat Lives On at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center

Steamboat Lives On at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center
Chris Navarro at work on “Wyoming Cowboy,” a sculpture of the legendary horse, Steamboat, that will be displayed at UW’s Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. (UW Foundation)

LARAMIE — Steamboat, the iconic horse that defines and embodies the untamable spirit of the state and the University of Wyoming, will forever be on display at UW’s Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center.

He represents the toughness, pride and independence of Wyoming, its people and its animals, says Ben Blalock, president of the UW Foundation. “He represents the strength and vitality of the University of Wyoming.”

That message will be conveyed at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. Chris Navarro, a prominent Wyoming sculptor, has created a representation of Steamboat that will forever remind visitors of Wyoming.

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“The horse has a lot of Wyoming history in him,” explains Navarro. “He was born and bred here, and he was a champion bucking horse in Cheyenne. They designed the logo for the state from him. When you see that emblem, it’s Wyoming, and that’s what makes it cool. When anybody sees this, they’re going to know it’s the University of Wyoming for sure.”

Steamboat was the star of rodeos and Wild West shows for 15 years. A legendary bucker, he was jet black with three white feet. He received his name because, when he was a colt, he sustained a broken nose, which caused him to make a whistling sound when he bucked. In his career, he was ridden only a handful of times. His trademark move was to plant his front feet straight into the ground while throwing his back legs into the air.

Steamboat’s first rodeo was in Denver, Colo., in 1901. After that, he began his appearances at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1902, where he quickly became king of the buckers.

The horse had strong ties to Laramie and Albany County, so he also competed at the Albany County Fair. In 1903, the famous photo of him being ridden by Guy Holt was taken at this fair by UW Professor B. C. Buffum. This photograph was used by Deane Hunton, manager of UW Athletics in 1921, to create a silhouette that was used on the UW baseball team uniforms. Since then, the symbol has been used on all UW athletics gear and as the brand for the university.

“I’ve always liked that logo because it just says Wyoming,” says Navarro, “but I made mine a little different, a little wilder than the actual logo, but it’s pretty close. It’s my own artistic interpretation.”

Navarro’s sculpture, titled “Wyoming Cowboy,” features a rider atop Steamboat. It will be displayed in the Ralph R. and Fay W. Whitney Family Plaza on the Rochelle Gateway Center’s south side. It portrays the determination and spirit of a one-on-one contest between man and horse. The sculpture is a twist on the traditional bucking horse and rider.

“Wyoming Cowboy” will stand 16 feet tall and be 11.5 feet long. Visitors will be able to approach the sculpture and take photos with him. Not only will the sculpture be visible from the street, but people will be able to see it from inside the building through the windows that overlook the courtyard.

“To a T, this horse has been carefully crafted to represent Steamboat in great detail,” says Blalock. “The ‘Wyoming Cowboy’ is a true Wyoming cowboy who is riding Steamboat aggressively and, at least momentarily, successfully.”

Navarro, from Casper, has been sculpting professionally since 1986. He has several pieces on display in Wyoming and Colorado, including the 15-foot bull rider “Champion Lane Frost,” which is on display at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo grounds. He has a gallery in Sedona, Ariz., where he displays more than 70 bronze pieces.

A $500,000 donation from Bruce and Kathy Bummer of Casper supports Navarro’s sculpture. They are avid fans of UW Athletics, and they are generous university supporters. Neither Bruce nor Kathy graduated from UW, but their two sons did.

When the opportunity arose to support Navarro’s sculpture, they both were excited to do so.

“We really like Chris’s work,” says Kathy Bummer. “We think he’s an awesome sculptor, so that’s why we decided (to support) the Steamboat sculpture.”

Bruce Bummer adds, “It will be very impressive, and it’s at the right place on campus. It will be a nice welcome to the University of Wyoming.”

The sculpture for the Rochelle Gateway Center needed to be the defining symbol of the university. It had to be approachable, and people needed to be able to take photos with it from every direction. Looking at several different sculptures on campus, it was decided to model the sculpture.

“Steamboat has long been identified as being the representative image for the University of Wyoming, and the statue ‘Fanning a Twister’ by Peter Fillerup is so often referred to,” explains Blalock. “The Steamboat sculpture has become a strong image of what Wyoming and the University of Wyoming are all about.”

Fillerup’s sculpture, located on Willett Drive, is a highly photographed piece of art. The Navarro sculpture and a second one in War Memorial Plaza, north of the Rochelle Gateway Center, needed to inspire the same reaction. The designs by Navarro and D. Michael Thomas needed to be aggressive representations of the bucking horse and rider, and be spectacular in size.

The artists, however, weren’t given any limits, and they were allowed to let their imaginations run wild. Both artists enthusiastically took on the assignment, knowing it was a high-stakes competition and that only one of their designs would be chosen.

The intention was that there would only be one sculpture at the Rochelle Gateway Center. Both sculptures were so exciting and dynamic that it was ultimately decided they both needed to be part of the facility.

“These works of art went beyond all of our expectations,” Blalock says. “We knew they would be special, but we have been absolutely awed by what these two artists have done. As spectacular as the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center is going to be, it will be enhanced by two amazing world-class pieces of art.”

The Rochelle Gateway Center is a remarkable statement regarding the impact of private fundraising on Wyoming’s university. It is funded completely through private support, including a $10 million commitment from Marian H. Rochelle to name the center and a $6 million commitment from Mick and Susie McMurry, through the McMurry Foundation, to name the center’s two most prominent visitors’ spaces: the McMurry Foundation Grand Atrium and the McMurry Foundation UW Legacy Hall.

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