Paul Moore spent nearly 20 years capturing the chaos of a single — yet seminal — day. The renowned figurative sculptor was hired in 2000 to create a 45-piece Oklahoma City monument celebrating the state’s centennial. Ultimately completed in December 2019, the vast assemblage of life-size horses, soldiers, covered wagons, and pioneers depicts the 1889 Land Run, when 50,000 settlers galloped into the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma Territory to stake their claims. Moore’s own great-grandfather, who’s shown in the installation as a cigar-smoking cowboy, rode among the hopeful throngs. It’s just one of many family stories reflected in the artist’s works, which could be broadly described as ambitious metal tributes to his Western heritage.
Moore, a fifth-generation Oklahoman and longtime member of the Cowboy Artists of America, is descended from early Western settlers and Native Americans. He’s a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Sweet Potato Clan; one maternal ancestor arrived in Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, while a great-grandfather drove cattle on the Chisholm Trail. Yet another relative was friends (and next-door neighbors) with Quanah Parker, the Comanche Nation war leader. “I grew up on these stories,” Moore says. “The stickball games, the green corn dance — my grandmother described them to me so beautifully over the years that I could almost feel like I was there.”
When he was 13 years old, Moore visited the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum (now the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum). There he was inspired by James Earle Fraser’s famed bronze End of the Trail and resolved to someday create his own monumental works. Self-taught, the now-veteran sculptor continually strives to find new ways to present Western themes. “I once heard someone say that every image has already been done in Western art, [that] there isn’t anything new out there,” Moore says. “Well, that’s my goal: to do lots of pieces that are totally different. Every year I try to do something that I’ve never seen, to push the envelope.”
The effort has earned Moore acclaim. The Procession, a bronze bas-relief illustrating a Pueblo Indian religious procession, nabbed him the top award at the 2019 Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition & Sale. (“I’ve never seen anyone doing anything quite like that, making something that looks like an altar piece come to life,” reflects Moore.) For the 2020 Prix de West, he’s working on a sculpture called The Suspension to the Sun, which he says is inspired by the Sun Dance of the Mandan people and gives the illusion of a dancer floating.
Moore enjoys experimenting with form and mining subject matter from his own family heritage and other Native cultures, but his sculptures aren’t all limited to Western subjects and the galleries, museums, and exhibitions that show them. Stroll through D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery and you might spot his 1994 bronze bust of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote creator Charles Martin “Chuck” Jones. Or visit the U.S. House of Representatives Collection, Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum, the San Diego Zoo, and countless other public forums to spy monuments and portraits by Moore. “I’ve done so much that people don’t know how to label me,” Moore says. “It gets very confusing for them, whether they want to peg me as a portrait artist or a Western artist or a monumental artist. I’m just a jack-of-all-trades who does it all. But the Western work, I do it for myself. It really gives me that thrill — the one that every artist needs.”
Paul Moore is represented by Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. See his work at the 48th annual Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition & Sale June 12 – 13 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City; artworks remain on view through August 2.