RAWLINS, Wyo. — Jerry Palen grew up in rural Wyoming and in the museums of the West. Each greatly influenced his life and work.
Palen saw a lot of rural people while traveling with his father and modeled his cartoon, "Stampede," after those he met, he said.
His father was a large animal veterinarian who would make house calls to ranches farms in rural Wyoming, Palen said.
His father was also an authority on Western art and Americana, he said.
"When I was 9 years old, I announced to the world I was going to be an artist," Palen said.
While always following an interest in the fine arts, his mother wouldn't let Palen go to college for art.
Instead, he got a degree in economics and political science.
After becoming a bank examiner and traveling often, Palen wanted to enjoy his life and work by reigniting a lifelong passion.
"I didn't have any interest in going to the bar every night," he said. "That's when I started drawing cartoons."
He showed the drawings to his wife and high school sweetheart, Ann, who took them to the local paper.
He sold his first cartoons at the bargain rate of 10 for $5.
The series picked up almost immediately, Palen said. He quit his job and pursued a career as an artist.
"If you have the passion, it'll work out," Palen advises.
"You have to be committed. Always pushing," Ann chimes in. "You do whatever it takes to make it work."
The support of his wife and her business savvy is essential to his success, he said.
Palen wakes up early each morning and begins working in his home studio in Saratoga, he said.
Nowadays Palen doesn't have much time to make pieces for himself, he said. Deadline after deadline for commissioned bronze pieces keep popping up. And then there's "Stampede," which marks its 40th year in 2013.
That commitment and dedication has made Palen nationally known and recognized by the state of Wyoming.
In 2009 Palen was awarded the Governor's Arts Award for his contribution to the arts in Wyoming.
"Jerry is multi-talented. In addition to the wonderful bronze work he does, there are pieces of his all across the state including right outside our building," said Rita Basom, manager of the Wyoming Arts Council. "He's multifaceted in the things he can do as an artist."
Talking to Palen, you get a sense of the humor that led to the success of his cartoon series, but when he begins to discuss his bronze works his smile becomes thoughtful and his voice softens as he searches for the words.
"I always design a piece so people can go up to it and touch it," he said. "Sculpting for me is my favorite, so they can pet it and touch it," he said.
Palen wants people to feel what he feels while molding the lines and folds with his hands without the aid of tools, he said.
"He likes to make very interactive pieces that children can climb on if it's in a space where they are allowed to do that," Basom said. "He makes it very friendly for the people who are seeing the piece and are interacting with it."
Palen paints, too. Pieces by Palen can be bought and commissioned through Blackhawk Gallery in Saratoga.
Information from: Rawlins (Wyo.) Daily Times, http://www.rawlinstimes.com