Seller Story: Sid Burns, Dallas, TX

“The roots of the Western collection come from my grandfather: he grew up on ranches in Oklahoma and Texas. Then he moved out to southern California when he was 19 or 20 years old and lived on a ranch there as well. He was also a fourth or fifth generation cobbler and leatherworker, so he opened up a shoe shop in Laguna Beach where he was creating custom men’s and women’s boots. He also did custom saddles, gun holsters, all kinds of things. There are a lot of items in the auction that he tooled.

Some time in his late 40’s he was visiting relatives in Oklahoma and went to the Gilcrease Museum and saw a sculpture there by Remington, and he turned around to my father and said, you know, I think I can do this. So he had no background, very little education generally, and certainly no art education: he was a completely self-taught sculptor. He started sculpting when he was in his late 40’s and he cast his first two pieces when he was 50. When he put them in his shop, just to show them off, people came in wanting to buy them. Within a week he’d sold his first two pieces, and decided to cast more. And in two years he sold the shop and was a self-supporting artist.

From an engineering point of view, his pieces are right on the edge of impossible. The Spooked piece was so close to impossible, actually, that he really had to work with the foundry on how to balance it. The version of that piece that’s in the auction is one that my father bought: it actually has my great-grandfather’s face on the cowboy.

I think the piece with the chief riding his calm horse while he’s guiding his war pony is another great piece that really shows the contradictions of his art. He was able to get so much energy and dynamic tension out of bronze, which is cold, hard and heavy." — Shelby Burns, granddaughter

Seller Story: Sid Burns, Dallas, TX
Seller Story: Sid Burns, Dallas, TX
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Seller Story: Sid Burns, Dallas, TX

What was your grandfather’s process like?

As he worked on these over months and months and months, in his head he had whole stories about who these cowboys were and what they were doing. The 8 + 2, for instance, is a scene from a rodeo: the event where you ride a wild bronco for 8 seconds and if you can stay on, you win. So in this piece, the cowboy has made it the 8 seconds, but he can’t get off the horse. The other rider comes up to pull him off, and the saddle breaks. That’s what the extra 2 seconds is.

Your grandfather had a short career, but it seems like he got a lot done during that time!

He only produced work for 13 years before he died. I think it was 24 pieces in those 13 years. Most of them had editions of either 12 or 24, so there really are not a lot of his pieces out there. But collectors and gallerists, other artists, they loved him. At the Death Valley 49’s show, the artists who participate all vote on their favorite peer, and when my grandfather was producing work he won that award 7 years in a row. It’s still called the Sid Burns award.

There’s some amazing jewelry in the auction, also.

His wife Frances totally supported his work; the two of them together were this dynamo couple in the American western art scene. The jewelry was both of theirs, and we have pictures of them wearing most of the pieces. They were part of the whole lifestyle: cowboy hats, cowboy boots, bolos, squash blossoms, belt buckles. They collected lots of pieces, Indian jewelry in particular.

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