Harold Holden painted and sculpted many cowboys in his life.
But only one who wore epaulettes. Holden, 81, is a professional artist and self-taught sculptor of Enid.
He specializes in Western art and has completed commissions for places like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Ranching Heritage Center, and the Oklahoma Arts Council.
Inducted into the 2014 Oklahoma Hall of Fame for His Art, Holden has also left a permanent mark on the campus of his alma mater, Oklahoma State University.
Holden sculpted the “Kneeling Cowboy” statue in the Gallagher-Iba Arena and the T. Boone Pickens statue outside the Boone Pickens Stadium.
On Saturday, Holden’s third statue on campus will be revealed, that of 1988 Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. Even for a Hall of Fame member, working on a statue of an NFL Hall of Fame member was different.
“When you have probably the best running back in history, what you’re going to do is intimidating,” Holden said. “He’s not just any football player. He’s the best football player.
Former OSU athletic director Mike Holder called on Holden to start the process of creating the statue. They thought through each model that Holden created and found a pose to their liking that would work structurally on the fourth design.
Holden worked on the statue for about a year. He was inspired by images, a helmet provided by OSU, and his memories of watching Sanders rack up yards at Lewis Field.
Part of the statue proved particularly difficult to get a visual aid to help with the meticulous details.
“They could never find his shoes or shoes like hers,” Holden said. “So the shoes are kind of made by looking at pictures. “
A foundry in Arlington sent Holden a block of styrofoam shaped into the general outline of the desired result.
Holden went to work in his home studio, carving life out of the white, humanoid, devoid of detail block with every tool and looping knife he used.
He covered his work with clay and engraved the smallest details, creating a mold to send back to the foundry where the casting of liquid bronze will immortalize his work.
Holden’s home studio is a happy place. Pictures decorate the walls in an explosion of cowboy-themed artwork. There are landscape paintings he did for magazine covers and photos of his wife, Edna Mae, lassoing.
Now that Rush Limbaugh is deceased, Holden listens to what he calls “cowboy music” while sculpting.
“It’s down to earth type of music,” Holden said. “Not what the country and the west are now. Just cowboy music. Cowboy stories. Here now. Some in the past.
A favorite album is the one Edna Mae sings and performs on, where she reflects on her rodeo days. Holden plays his wife’s songs on a CD player when he carves – that’s all the machine plays, Holden thinks, but he’s not good with technology.
Holden said he hopes people enjoy the statue, both Sanders and the fans who enjoyed watching him play.
“I think all the time about how people will perceive it; whether they like it or not, ”Holden said. “Probably most artists do.”
Despite its decades of work, the Sanders statue is Holden’s first sports sculpture. It turns out that he is a man of man who knows the first.
If the Sanders statue is how Holden and his work are remembered, it fits in a way. He has carved cowboys all his life.