Bernalillo County Seal, Bronze

Bernalillo County Seal, Bronze

There are four Bernalillo County Seals in the series.  The first two are cast bronze, and the last two are painted fiberglass.  The slideshow below is about “Bernalillo County Seal I”, the first in the series, and is cast bronze. A description of the design process written by the artist follows the slide show.

“Bernalillo County Seal” is the 1st in the series. It is a Bronze Seal, 6 ft in diameter, approx. 700 lbs.  Located in the new Bernalillo County Courthouse, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Bernalillo County (New Mexico) 6-foot Seal:
The History of Its Design and Creation

by Doug Czor, Artist and Sculptor, July, 2013

In March of 1999, I received the commission to create two, 6-foot-in-diameter, cast bronze, Bernalillo County seal.  I realized that the large size of the various design elements would allow me to create a considerably detailed bas relief.  It would later prove to be my opportunity to create a great work of art.  During the initial research phase of the project, it appeared to me that the reason the originators of our County chose certain design elements was lost in history.  Therefore, I contacted several local historians from the “East Mountain Historical Society”, as well as continued researching in the downtown library.  In order to create a more authentic emblem, I wanted to learn what the original designers had in mind; which mountains were symbolized for the seal design; what type of sheep did they choose, and why?

I began my research by trying to determine the type of sheep that are symbolized in the original emblem design.  Mr. Elliot Saxe, of the Bernalillo County Extension Service, believed that the Rambouillet sheep would be the best choice for the original historic emblem design; he felt that the Rambouillet provided the best economic return for the ranchers of that time.  The Rambouillets had two, key benefits: both good-tasting mutton and high-quality wool.  All other types of sheep had either good-tasting mutton, or desirable wool, but not both.  In 1783, Louis XVI, the French King, in the town of Rambouillet, France, crossbred several different varieties of Spanish Marino sheep; his goal was to develop the “French National Herd”.  The first French Marinos, or “Rambouillets”, as they would later be called, first arrived in North America during the 1840s.  The Rambouillets soon dominated the North American markets.

I was 11 years old when I experienced my first, major road trip in 1958; we traveled from Minnesota to San Diego.  My Grandfather drove us through New Mexico, where we first encountered the Rambouillet.  A large herd of Rambouillet crossed the highway; hundreds of Rambouillet were escorted by Native American herdsman on horseback.  We watched from our open-windowed Mercury, as the sounds and slow intensity of a beautiful, white, “wave” washed across the highway and up into the mountains of northern New Mexico.  It was not until 1999 that I would cross paths again with the Rambouillet.  However, my earlier experience in 1958 greatly facilitated in my understanding why the original designers of the County seal chose the magnificent and perhaps spiritual Rambouillet sheep to symbolize each of the eight districts of Bernalillo County.

During telephone interviews, I spoke with several Rambouillet ranch owners whom reside on the high plateaus, east of the Sandia Mountains.  A mysterious respect and love for the Ramouillet resonated in their voices.  My conversation with these ranchers prompted more interest in these beautiful creatures; I located an Albuquerque 4-H Club member who owned and cared for a few, choice Rambouillet sheep on his parent’s property in the NE Heights.  Direct use of my photographs of these NE Heights Rambouillet were implemented in the sculpting of the sheep portrayed in the creation of the County emblem.  I used computer software to prepare various sections of the Rambouillet photographs.  The small, photographic sections of the wool were converted into black-and-white negatives.  I utilized a jewelry-making technique to transfer the images to photosensitive plastic.  Water and a brush washed away the photosensitive plastic under the image pattern that was not exposed to ultraviolet light, creating a miniature, bas relief, hard copy of the various wool textures displayed on the Rambouillet image.  I applied these miniature bas relief stamps to texture my clay carving of the Rambouillet for the emblem prototype.  Each clay Rambouillet bas relief was about 6-inches-in-height by 9-inches-in-length, so it was possible to create extensive detail in the carving.  This high-tech, jewelry-making method allowed me to, perhaps, increase by tenfold, the quality of my work.

The selection (made by the designers) of the mountains portrayed on the Bernalillo County emblem became my next research subject.  Since considerable detail would be possible with the 10-inches-high by 55-inches-wide mountains of the emblem, it was important to correctly express the nature of the mountains.  Did the original designers of the County emblem choose to generalize the mountains, or did they select specific mountains that were in some way important to Bernalillo County?  After some driving, I located a set of mountains that had the same shape and proportions, as viewed in the original emblem design.  Standing there, looking at the mountains, I was astonished by the realization that the original emblem designer was probably making a direct link to a location that was paramount in importance.  I quickly photographed the worn and rounded mountains at the base of Tijeras Canyon.  I was standing on an ancient highway and the gateway to a beautiful and fertile valley that is now Bernalillo County.

Tijeras Canyon has, in fact, served as an important travel corridor throughout time.  Sheep herders moved their flocks from the abundant, high plains of Gamma grasslands through Tijeras Canyon, on to the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County stockyards and wool warehouses.  Perhaps the designers of the original County emblem purposely chose the four mountains of the gateway to Tijeras Canyon to be an important symbolic element in the design of the Bernalillo County emblem.

Based on the images from the Tijeras Canyon photographs, I textured the carved, clay prototype mountains with various, handmade tools.  At the base of Tijeras Canyon, I had collected various granite stones to function as stamps; these “stamps” became the most important tools in sculpting the clay mountains.  The stone tools were also used to texture the surface between and surrounding the lettering of the emblem.   In order to strengthen the emblem design with a three-dimensional appearance, as well as to make the statement of a valley running between the mountains, I progressively reduced the degree of texture on the center, two mountains.  Many of the tools used in the carving of the County emblem’s prototype were specially crafted for the project; these tools are now preserved for historical purposes.

In the process of creating a work of art, it is important for the sculptor or painter to be just as creative in crafting handmade tools.  An unusual texture or a curious application of paint incorporated in an artwork is the recording of the artist’s excitement about creativity.  Perhaps for most of us, creativity is the central source of meaning in life.  Creativity is fundamental to everything interesting and important to humanity.  Our language, music, values, religion, scientific understanding, technology, and artistic expression are all extensions of our ability to be creative.  Through some form of artistic expression, we have a choice to “lift up our voices”.

In 2006 and 2013, I received a commission to produce an epoxy/fiberglass casting from the same mold as the previous bronze Bernalillo County emblems.   The epoxy/fiberglass castings were painted with high-grade, acrylic colors and iridescent pigments.  Throughout the years, the design and construction of the County emblem series has provided me with many wonderful learning experiences.  I integrated historical research, photography, photoengraving, acrylic painting, silicone molding, bronze sand casting, and epoxy/fiberglass fabricating in the creation of the four bas relief emblems.  An interesting and unexpected consequence of the sculpture series has emerged; the diversity of the construction techniques implemented for the series (ranging from the ancient, bronze sand-casting methods, to the very recent, experimental aircraft/fiberglass techniques) has “built” a metaphoric “bridge” representing the relationship between ancient and contemporary Bernalillo County, New Mexico.