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Curious Artifact Leads to Clues about Breckenridge, CO Foundry

Sculptor Gary Herbert

“Do you know what this might be?” asks Kris Ann Knish, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance Collections Manager. It is a favorite question to visitors to the Sandra Mather Archives. Holding up a small metal cube with a tiny hole in it, visitors ponder its origin. Is it left over from a mining process? Part of a dredge boat?

The cube is heavy, probably made of bronze. There are no markings on it, nothing to identify its maker. “Might it be from the foundry?” Knish prods. “Breckenridge had a foundry?” visitors invariably reply. The strange artifact, found in a box of random items, has remained a mystery until recently.

curious artifact

Spurred by the clue that Breckenridge may have had a foundry for casting metal sculptures, Leigh Girvin, interviewer for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance Oral History Project, followed up anytime a narrator for the oral histories mentioned it. However, information about the foundry remained vague.

Since the Oral History Project began in late 2017, the Heritage Alliance learned that the foundry existed sometime in the 1970s and that it was located on the west side of the building we know today as the Breckenridge Theater on Ridge Street. A pizza place was in the front of the building at the time. Later in the 1970s, the building became the home of Shamus O’Toole’s Roadhouse Saloon.

A recent oral history provided the clues to help solve the mystery of the Breckenridge Foundry. JMD, a Breckenridge resident in the early 1970s, mentioned that her then-husband worked at the foundry. He wasn’t an artist himself, but he helped the artist devest the bronze sculptures after the molten bronze had cooled. The narrator recalled that the artist’s name was Gary and that he moved to the Shidoni Foundry in Tesuque, New Mexico, when he left Breckenridge.

The Shidoni Foundry was started in 1971 by Tim Hicks, father of Scott Hicks who owns the foundry and gallery today. Scott recalled the artist who came from Breckenridge. He was an attorney before starting his art career as a sculptor of Western-themed miniatures. The most important piece of information Scott shared was the artist’s name: Gary Herbert.

sculpture by Gary Herbert

On to the trusty internet we went to find out more about Gary Herbert. Gary was a graduate of Harvard University where he drew cartoons for the Harvard Lampoon. After receiving his law degree from the University of Colorado, and working in the law office with Governor Love, he surprised family and friends when he decided to give up his law career and become a sculptor.

Gary Herbert chose Breckenridge to start his foundry in the early 1970s. We don’t know why he chose Breckenridge, but we do know that Governor John Love was a frequent visitor to Breckenridge in the 1960s, and his son, Andy, worked at the Breckenridge Ski Area for a time. Perhaps there was a relationship with the Love family that spurred Herbert’s interest in our community.

sculpture by Gary Herbert

As an artist, Herbert’s subjects were primarily Western wildlife and some Native Americans and cowboys. One of his largest commissions was a 100 lb. grizzly bear presented to President Jimmy Carter as a gift from singer John Denver. Herbert’s work can be found today in museums and private collections. After a devastating car crash in 1980 kept him from pursuing sculpting, Herbert returned to law, working for then-Colorado Attorney General Gail Norton. He passed away in 2006 at age 71. According to his obituary in the Denver Post, Herbert cultivated a “mountain man” persona. At gallery openings, Herbert would wear Western shirts and chaps that emphasized his lanky 6-foot-6 height.

Gary Herbert is one of many artists who have called Breckenridge “home” through the decades. He contributes to the rich cultural heritage of Breckenridge. And what about the metal cube? Scott Hicks thought it could be a stand for a piece of balancing art. It remains a mystery.

written by Leigh Girvin

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