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Dave McGary: The Honor Dress

A modern master of bronze, artist Dave McGary used extreme attention to detail and a unique coloring process to render unparalleled likenesses of Native Americans. Cody, Wyoming, a cultural hub of Western art, set the stage for McGary’s early life. The landscapes, stories, and most impactfully – the people of his home informed the breadth of his work. McGary used the depth of Native American cultures as “fuel to the creative flame”[1], and his sculptures continue to educate all those who look upon them.

 At 15, the artist earned a scholarship to study bronze casting in Florence, Italy. The subsequent years proved beneficial to the young McGary who was enveloped by Renaissance art and multi-generational masters of various crafts.[2] Later in his life, while working at a foundry in Santa Fe, New Mexico, McGary befriended members of the Red Elk Family of the Lakota Sioux. After impressing them with his artistic ability as a sculptor and passion for Native American Culture, he was given honorary status as a member of the tribe and charged with the task of “using his talents as an observer, carrying knowledge of the Sioux to the larger world.”[3]

In “The Honor Dress” McGary reveals much of his wide skill set in a statuette not two feet tall. A woman stands proudly coated in the hide of a bison, holding the war bonnet of her deceased husband – the Chief. His bonnet’s laudable length wraps around her body, and is composed of over one hundred feathers from the golden eagle – a decoration of tremendous merit. Her ceremonial bison robe, made for the occasion of his funeral, is a painted tapestry of valiant scenes from the Chief’s life. The accuracy of the piece would be remarkable if it rested only on the bronze’s textural experience (representations of bison hide and fur, and beadwork which confounds belief that the sculpture is entirely bronze). But it is McGary’s unique painting process which makes his subjects most alive, allowing his knowledge to shine beyond what is cast. The scenes painted on the honor dress bear a strong resemblance to the style of similar Sioux drawings depicting the Battle of Little Bighorn.[4] Dave McGary’s works are worthy supplements to any serious study of the Native American experience.

[1] Youtube: Chief Washakie Statue Unveiling: Wyoming Signatures Feature

[2] Idaho Mountain Express, July 12, 2006

[3] Chief Washakie Statue


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