Sculpture

5. Three Generations of Bronzing

AFTER 50 YEARS OF SUCCESS, STUDIO WEST BRONZE GALLERY’S KAREN BEGG SHARES HISTORY IN THE MAKING

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Cowboy Artist
Doug Stephens (1918-1972). Affectionately known as “Calgary’s Original Cowboy Artist" his memories are displayed at Studio West. Photo at Gallery West.

By Janaia Hutzal

Calgary resident and Dover community advocate, Karen Begg, not only has an accomplished interest in history, but a vested one.

Begg was only three when her grandfather, Doug Stephens, also known as “Cowboy Artist,” passed away after suffering numerous heart attacks. Begg was not allowed in the cardiac unit, so her grandfather would send home drawings and poetry for her parents to share with her; one of which she recites:

“If at first you get bucked down

Try a smile, not a frown

Get back on with a grin

I have a hunch you just might win”

Begg is the third-generation to carry out the lost wax method of sculpting at Studio West Ltd., which is a bronze sculpting business in Cochrane, Alta. that offers complete sculpture services, bronze sculptures, and monumental statues.

“In 1971 the Calgary Stampede honoured my grandfather by putting one of his sculptures on the back of the sliver stampede dollars,” relays Karen Begg. “He did a lot of work for the Stampede.”

Stephens passed away a short time later but was honoured by the Calgary Stampede for nine more years.

Seize every opportunity, don’t undervalue yourself, be realistic in your goals, but work at it every day.

Stephens’ legacy carries on, as will the Begg’s, through their sculptures. After almost 50-years, the family owned and run business has 426 outdoor public monuments worldwide.

“Our work is about others, often commemorating events or people that are great contributors to our country.

Our work is going to be here long after we are gone, so that is our legacy.”

Begg says that bronze artefacts have lasted more than 3000 years so far.

Many of their statues can be seen around Calgary and area, such as the Fly Fisherman, Rock Climber, and Fish at the Calgary International Airport.  Their sculptures can be found in Tanglewood, Elbow Valley, downtown – with their largest project found on 7 avenue and 6 street, and the “larger than life” Airmen statues at Currie Barracks  – to name a few.

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Studio West Gallery Sculptures at YYC Airport
Fly Fisherman and Friends displayed in Studio West Gallery, as well aas the Calgary International Airport and Elbow Valley.

Photo by Janaia Hutzal

Studio West’s sculptures are displayed all across Canada, and even around the world; from Saudi Arabia to Samsung headquarters in Germany.

“We have eight works at Buckingham Palace that are on display.”

They were the creators of the sculptures made in honour of the Mayerthorpe Fallen Four Mounties, the RCMP dog that was killed – changing the way dogs were treated within the RCMP, as well as a little twin girl in a wheelchair, and pioneering women.

One of the largest in the country, they produce “eight tons of finished metal a year.”

Much of their work is for museums commemorating a historic person or a historic event.

Their art is “realistic,” which Karen Begg says makes their sculptures different from some of the newer more abstract art.  That is what their clients want.

All of their creations are limited editions, with some being only one. They will do smaller three-feet versions of a piece to match larger ones, which are around nine.

Made of a soft oil-based clay from Italy and New Jersey, Karen Begg says that some of the clay used today is probably 60-years-old.

“It was my grandfather’s, and we’ve of course added to it.”

The business, which started along Cochrane Road, was eventually moved to their present location in downtown Cochrane.  It was cheaper for Don and Shirley Begg to start a business in Cochrane because land was more affordable than in Calgary.

But Karen Begg says that after many years in business they are now “able to weather some of those financial turbulent storms.”

“One of the reasons I think we are so successful is because of our staff,” explains Karen Begg.  Their shop foreman has been with them 40 years.

“Our boss works as hard as the rest of us, my father; he would never ask any of us to do a job he wouldn’t do himself.”

As for advice for up-and-coming artists, Karen Begg says to “treat it like a full time job.”

“If you are not creating art, market your art, be out there meeting contacts, update your information.

Seize every opportunity, don’t undervalue yourself, be realistic in your goals, but work at it every day.”

She recalls a quote from Wayne Gretsky, after they moved his commemorative statue from the old Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton to its new location at the recently opened Rogers Stadium:

“’A good player plays where the puck is, a great player plays where the puck is going.’”

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#99 Rogers Stadium Statue of Wayne Gretzky
Gretzky the Great #99. Bronze statue of Wayne Gretzky holding up the Stanley Cup, which was taken from the old arena in Edmonton to the new Rogers Centre. Photo taken of Studio West's wall of photographic memories.

“Don’t put your work off for tomorrow, work at it as often as you can, and be ready for change.”

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