June 16, 2011 4:13 AM

Dispute over gun may delay dedication of Mexican cowboy statue in Fort Worth

It’s a face-off between two Dallas sculptors who made the Vaquero de Fort Worth statue and Fort Worth officials who commissioned the artwork.

A bronze sculpture meant to honor the legacy of Mexican cowboys is being held up by a pistol.

It’s a face-off between two Dallas sculptors who made the Vaquero de Fort Worth statue and Fort Worth officials who commissioned the artwork.

In the works since 2004, the custom bronze sculpture is at an Azle foundry, nearly ready to be installed at a plaza on North Main Street at Central and Ellis avenues.

But the city has ordered work on the project halted because the artists added a bullet belt and pistol in a holster on the horseman’s right hip, which were not in the final design approved by the city. The10-foot statue was supposed to be dedicated June 25, but those plans are on hold while lawyers for the city and the artists wrangle to resolve the conflict.

The Fort Worth City Council is expected to discuss the matter in a closed session at today’s meeting.

Sculptors Tomas Bustos and David S. Newton say that they placed a Remington .44-caliber revolver on the statue to be historically accurate. Their research showed that vaqueros in the 1880s and 1890s carried such firearms to protect themselves from predators and cattle rustlers.

“Back then it was used as a tool to help the cowboy out in the field,” Bustos said. “Now, because of all these shoot-’em-up cowboy movies, you look at the gun and it’s a weapon.”

But Manuel T. Valdez, chairman of the Vaquero Project Core Committee, said the group’s initial research did not find illustrations depicting vaqueros with guns. And committee members were concerned that a gun might be controversial.

“The decision of the pistol was thoroughly discussed back then and the decision was made not to have it,” said Valdez, a Tarrant County justice of the peace. “We didn’t want it to look like a typical bandito, your gun-toting cowboy. The image we were working toward for this proud cattleman really didn’t need a gun to do his work.”

A contract with Fort Worth Art Commission specifies that any “substantial changes” were to be cleared ahead of time. But Newton noted the piece with the gun was approved 11 months ago, before it was sent to the foundry. The artists did not consider the gun to be a major design change.

The Art Commission apparently disagreed. At a May meeting, members voted 6-1 against altering the original approved design, said city spokesman Bill Begley.

While Valdez calls the piece “magnificent,” he does not want the gun included. Yet he acknowledges that it may be too much work to remove it at this point.

Bustos and Newton say they won’t agree to remove the gun.

“We’re not taking it off, and it’s up in the air. And at this point we own it. We’re standing by our work because we believe in it,” Bustos said. “This is an artist’s dream to do a piece like this, a monumental sculpture for the community. It really hurts.”

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