Bernalillo County Seal, Bronze

Bernalillo County Seal, Bronze

There are four Bernalillo County Seals in the series.  The first two are sand cast silicon bronze, 700 lbs. each, and the last two are painted experimental aircraft fiberglass.  The slideshow below is about “Bernalillo County Seal 1”, the first in the series.  Seal 2 was installed on the wall behind reception in the lobby of the new County Jail.  A description of the ideas and design process, written by the artist follows the slide show.

Bernalillo County Seal 1, the 1st in the series, is located in the center of the main floor of the Bernalillo County Courthouse lobby, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Bernalillo County Seal:

The History of Its Design and Creation

by Doug Czor, July 2013

In March of 1999, I received the commission to create two, 6 ft. diameter, cast bronze, Bernalillo County seals.  I realized that the large size of the various visual elements in the design 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 for the seal was lost to history.  So, I contacted several local historians from the “East Mountain Historical Society”, as well as continued researching in the Albuquerque 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 were numerous and 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 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.   This 1958 experience greatly facilitated in my understanding why the original designers of the county emblem chose the magnificent and perhaps spiritual Rambouillet sheep to symbolize each of the eight districts of Bernalillo County.

It was not until 1999 that I would cross paths again with the Rambouillet.  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 Rambouillet resonated in their voices.  My conversation with these ranchers prompted even 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 photography of these NE Heights Rambouillets was used in the sculpting of the sheep, portrayed in the creation of a new 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 & 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 in the Rambouillet photos.  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 six inches in height by nine inches in length, so it was possible to create extensive detail in the carving.  This high tech, jewelry-making method allowed me to increase perhaps by tenfold the quality of my work.  

The selection of the mountains portrayed on the original Bernalillo County emblem became my next research subject.  Since considerable detail would be possible with the ten inch high by fifty five inch wide mountains of the new 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 were probably making a direct link to a location, a gateway 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 in 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, perhaps since humanity arrived in the Rio Grande valley.  In recent history, sheep herders moved their flocks from the abundant, high plains of Gamma grasslands before winter down through Tijeras Canyon and into the Albuquerque wool warehouses.  I believe 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 first Bernalillo County emblem.

Based on 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 texture stamps; these “stamps” became important tools in sculpting the clay mountains and the plain surfaces between and surrounding the lettering on the emblem.   In order to strengthen the emblem design with depth, 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 prototypes were specially crafted for the project.  In the process of sculpting, it is often necessary for the sculptor to be just as creative in crafting handmade tools.  An unusual texture incorporated into a sculpture is the recording of the artist’s excitement while working and may say something about personality.  

In 2006 and 2013, I received a commission to produce two additional emblem castings, however this time in epoxy/fiberglass.  I utilized the same silicone mold that was previously used for the bronze Bernalillo County emblems.   The epoxy/fiberglass castings were painted with high-grade, acrylic colors and iridescent pigments.  During the years of design and construction of the Bernalillo County emblem series I experienced many wonderful learning experiences.  I integrated historical research, photography, photoengraving, acrylic painting, silicone molding, bronze sand casting, and epoxy/fiberglass fabrication in the creation of the four bas relief emblems.  An interesting and unexpected consequence of the sculpture series has emerged; the diversity of construction techniques used in the series, ranging from the ancient bronze sand-casting methods, to the very recent experimental aircraft fiberglass techniques could be a metaphor for the span of time from the ancient to the contemporary Bernalillo County, New Mexico.