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Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

Equine Art  
The Running Mustangs of Ennis High

Story and Photos By Rick Landry

 

August 2008 Issue

 

     While traveling the two-lane roads enroute from Bozeman to our home in western Montana ’s Bitterroot Valley , we took a few minutes to explore the residential streets of Ennis, a ranching community located on the Madison River .

     There we came upon a marvelous and unexpected sight — a one-and-a-quarter lifesize bronze sculpture of five galloping mustangs as the frontspiece of Ennis High School . The school, whose student body is approximately 115, is the “Home of the Mustangs.” 

     It was clear from first glance that this sculpture of a stallion, three mares and a leggy, young colt was a masterpiece of the highest magnitude. It had been expertly fashioned, and was a graceful and sophisticated work of Western art befitting a museum. 

     We quickly pulled over to admire the piece, but found no plaque with a description of the artist or the donor. It was just there — its flying shadows skimming across the well-maintained lawn, alongside the walkway leading up to the front doors of this rural Montana school.

     “Running Mustangs” is a creation of sculptor Douglas Van Howd, a Nevada native, and is valued at over $500,000. In the course of our research, we learned that there’s a good story behind these five galloping mustangs and how they came to be situated in Ennis, total population around 800.

     The story involves a long term alliance, and enduring relationship between the sculptor and a multifaceted gentleman named Mr. Emerson Hall who, when younger, had been a featured rider in a traveling equestrian exhibition, then had spent many successful years in Hollywood as a photographer of celebrities, and later became a highly-regarded, champion card player.

     Van Howd, who served as official White House artist during the Reagan Administration, first met the Halls — Emerson and his wife, Theda — in 1972. At that time, Emerson was a well-known professional photographer, and Van Howd a painter and beginning sculptor.

     Van Howd so valued Emerson’s critiques of his sculptures that he would take sculptures in their wax stage to the Halls’ Hollywood home for Emerson to appraise with his photographer’s eye, and then comment on what he liked or disliked, and explain why.

     Over time, Van Howd and Emerson grew very close, establishing a bond similar to that of a father and son. The Halls purchased two of every piece Van Howd produced. When the piece would sell out and double in value, Emerson would then sell one, and in essence gain the other for free.

     The Halls loved the outdoors, and Emerson — a world-class fly fisherman — was drawn to the beautiful Madison River . In the late 1970s, after living in Hollywood for 45 years, the Halls retired and relocated to Ennis and the Madison River Valley .

     The Van Howds and the Halls always remained in touch, but once Van Howd had gained world recognition and began his own foundry, he found himself so busy, it became difficult for him to break away and visit his old friend.

     However, upon learning that Emerson had lost his beloved Theda and had grown despondent, Van Howd resolved to travel to Ennis and stay with Emerson every few months.

     At age 94, Emerson proposed a project to Van Howd, which would be a tribute to Theda. He asked the artist to create what would become the “Running Mustangs” sculpture. Emerson chose to bequeath this exceptional bronze to the local high school, since their school image was the “Mustangs.”

     In June of 2006, the life-plus-one-quarter size statues, weighing a total of 5,000 lbs., were unveiled during a concert at Ennis High School . In addition, Emerson purchased two Steinway pianos for the school district, and helped pay for a new performing arts auditorium, all of course in Theda’s name.

     “Ennis is probably the only high school in the nation with two Steinways and a bronze monument,” says artist Van Howd. Emerson Hall, the very private, quiet and gentle fly fisherman and benefactor to all of Ennis, has since passed away.

     Douglas Van Howd grew up in Nevada where each spring he observed his uncle roping and training two or three mustangs. He first owned a horse at age 12, has been involved with the sport of cutting, and has been watching and studying mustangs and other horses his entire life. He and his wife Nancy were introduced by Emerson Hall to the gaited breed, Rocky Mountain Horses, after Nancy suffered a knee injury. Van Howd and his wife still ride and enjoy it immensely. He says that he thanks Emerson every time he rides.

     Van Howd Studios recently opened a beautiful new facility in the foothills of Northern California . Van Howd’s work may be found in prestigious collections around the world. He has won acclaim from many sources for his versatility as sculptor, painter, and stone carver.

     He casts his work in gold, silver and bronze, with issue prices which range from $1,500 to over $500,000. He has monuments in museums, on university campuses, in executive settings, and in parks, hotels, golf courses, and international airports.

     And, of course, one stands on the front lawn of Ennis High.

     To learn more about and to see Douglas Van Howd’s work, please visit www.douglasvanhowd.com.

 

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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