‘As we make our way through life, anything’s possible … you indeed can go from rags to riches’
Ed Schieffelin’s luck was reportedly so bad that a clerk at a Tucson, Arizona, mercantile turned down the 29-year- old miner’s request for a grubstake in August 1877. Insulted and angry, but not discouraged, Schieffelin—once described by an acquaintance as “about the queerest specimen of humanity ever seen”—spent his last few dollars on supplies and again took off into southeastern Arizona Territory.
Others warned Schieffelin the only thing he’d find in that desolate Apache country was his own tombstone, but perseverance paid off. The strike he, brother Al and partner Dick Gird made in the San Pedro Valley led to the founding of one of the West’s most famous towns—Tombstone—and, the Chicago Tribune noted, “put Arizona on the map and caused a rush like that of early Nevada and Colorado.” When Schieffelin left Tombstone in 1879, he had sold out for a reported $600,000.
Schieffelin’s rags-to-riches story struck a chord with sculptor Tim Trask, who is working on an 8-foot-tall sculpture of the itinerant miner—a piece the 61-year-old artist hopes will find a home in the town Schieffelin founded.
It wouldn’t be the first time a Trask sculpture landed in Tombstone, just a few miles south of the Saint David studio from which Trask has operated over the past five years. In 2008 the artist unveiled Stepping into Legend, an 8-foot bronze of Wyatt Earp, at Tombstone’s Earp House and Gallery.
“Wyatt Earp was a very interesting character,” Trask says from his workshop adjacent to Gallery of Dreams, which sells his artwork. “But before he got here, the miners were here. They’re a lot of times the least celebrated, and yet they took the most risks. So in some ways I thought Ed Schieffelin was for all the rest of us, that as we make our way through life, anything’s possible, that you indeed can go from rags to riches.”
Trask is no stranger to large-scale works. His creations in various media are in private collections and public venues worldwide and cover subjects ranging from the Holocaust to dinosaurs to golfers (including John Reid, the “Father of American Golf”).
Trask has always been drawn to history, and he’s far from finished with depicting legendary Arizona figures, among them a bronze of Geronimo. “I didn’t want him in a position of surrender, like in all the photographs of him,” Trask says. “I wanted to have him in action. I read as much as I could on him and his band. They used to actually run 200 miles into Mexico to raid a village there, and if they didn’t steal horses, they were walking back. Not many people could do that and still have energy for a battle.”
Trask would also like to create a 30- to 40-foot sculpture of Cochise and place it on a bluff along I-10 outside of Benson.
“I design my sculptures around me as I go,” Trask says. “How could I improve the area? Bronze is a great way to do it. We have people from all over the world come here to see Tombstone. They all have pictures taken with the bronzes. In some ways it’s a lot more interesting shot than some of the commercial things going on.”
Like most artists, Trask discovered his gift at an early age. “In fourth grade I’d taken an art class and done my first oil painting,” he says. “By fifth grade all I wanted for Christmas was a cartooning course. I just kept pursing it.”
At the University of Southern Colorado, Trask learned bronze-casting techniques, but not enough to satisfy him, so he went to work in foundries, casting his first bronze in 1971. He even built his own foundry before coming to a realization: “If I had a foundry I’d be doing everybody else’s work and not get my own done. I thought my time would be better off spent creating the sculptures.”
Which is what he has been doing, working not only in bronze, but also alabaster, jade and even meteorites. He’s usually in his studio at 7 a.m., working till at least 5 p.m. five or six days a week, and has no regrets. “It reached a certain point in my life where I decided if I want to be an artist, then my art has to bring me everything I desire.”
He experimented with stainless steel alloys until he found one that wouldn’t lose its temper. To be a sculptor these days, Trask says, you have to be well versed in science and math—not just art.
“Because mold making is constantly changing,” he says. “You have to be flexible and learn new techniques as you go. Bronze casting in its essence is the same, but the materials they do it with are different. So you have to stay on top of that. It’s a lifelong process. You never quit learning.”
Just as Ed Schieffelin never quit prospecting. On May 12, 1897, a neighbor found the miner’s body lying facedown on the floor of his Oregon cabin. He was just 49 years old. “He probably died from assaying gold in a closed cabin, because they boiled a lot of mercury,” Trask says. “They say they found a note he had scrawled: I FOUND IT. I HIT IT AGAIN.” Reportedly, the ore samples found in Schieffelin’s cabin assayed at more than $2,000 a ton.
See more of Tim Trask’s work online.