While strolling around the Phippen Museum Western Art Show in Prescott last May, a 10-foot tall woman stopped me in my tracks. And I was not the only bystander to stop and take notice of this tall figure. A small crowd had gathered around her and as I quickly learned, she’s a bit of a local celebrity. She’s the “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” — not just a bronze statue, but the epitome of a western pioneer woman. Looking into her eyes, I could see her strength, courage and determination.
With a rattlesnake in one hand and a hoe in the other, she was attracting a growing crowd at the Prescott Courthouse square. But her new official home is in front of the Town of Prescott Valley Civic Center, 7501 E. Civic Circle. The unveiling and dedication ceremony is at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 27.
At the Memorial Day weekend art show in downtown Prescott, another local celebrity was also drawing some attention. Bob Boze Bell, popular Arizona artist, cartoonist, columnist, writer, radio personality, True West Magazine owner and authority-on-all-things “old west,” stood behind a table signing prints of the colorful painting of the same towering bronze statue. My curiosity peaked. Bell is known for his drawings and paintings of “Old West” characters, scenes and themes, so at first I thought he might be dabbling in a new medium.
He must have seen my puzzled look as I glanced back and forth from the stack of colorful prints of the “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” to the 10-foot bronze statue with the same name, so he proceeded to offer up the short version how his commissioned painting for the centennial evolved into a statue bronze.
The story is a fascinating one. After Bell was asked to create a painting for the centennial, he captured memories of both his grandmothers’ personalities and lifestyles into one pioneer woman character — that of a sweet, but strong-willed rancher’s-farmer’s wife. Bell remembered his maternal grandmother, the wife of an Arizona rancher, would show both a soft side and firm hand. He recalled she could “calmly dispatch rattlesnakes with her trusty hoe.”
Bell’s original painting was so well-received; Prescott Valley Vice Mayor Lora Lee Nye had the idea to transform the work to bronze. Fast forward a few frames: Vice Mayor Nye contacted Ed Reilly, an owner of Bronzesmith, a Prescott Valley foundry, who then contacted local sculptor Deb Gessner, who would agree to create the 10-foot clay-to-bronze representation of Bell’s painting.
Vice Mayor Nye aptly tells about the Arizona pioneer woman characterization of American West in an online video: “The men won the West, but they did not tame it — the women tamed it.”
And many pioneer women, like one Arizona rancher’s wife, were “not so gentle.”
Thanks to the Town of Prescott Valley for permission to use these photos.