T.D. Kelsey, 65, may wear many hats, but he’s only ever had his hats creased one way. Born on a ranch near Bozeman, Mont., Kelsey rodeoed, was a commercial airline pilot, raised Longhorn cattle, built his own acrobatic airplanes, and is an avid bicyclist, rider (cutting horses), and hunter. Along the way, his bronze sculptures have earned him national recognition from the art community and adoration from the cowboy world. The Cowboy Artists of America describes his style as, “infused with amazing movement, imagination and emotion.”
Kelsey’s monuments and smaller pieces are on display from the Stockyards in Northside Fort Worth and the ProRodeo Hall of Champions in Colorado Springs, Colo., to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., and the Saint Louis Zoo. Everyone from Cabela’s to Tom and Meridith Brokaw (who commissioned a private piece) have championed his work.
“Horses are my favorite subject,” says Kelsey, who sculpts in clay before casting his creations. “I’ve been around cowboys and cattle all my life, so that’s what I’m most comfortable with.” When he started his art career in 1979, Kelsey focused strictly on cowboys and horses for subject matter, then moved on to North American and African wildlife (even the occasional Spanish fighting bull). What’s more, his style has drifted in a more impressionistic direction.
“I don’t ever want to break the truth…but I might stretch it a little bit,” he says. “I’m more satisfied with my work when I stay loose—a lot of my buyers are not. I’ve lost buyers over the years, but that’s OK. I feel better when I’m looser.” In fact, his studio is covered with notes imploring him to “Stay Loose.” He claims that the more confident he feels, the looser he stays, and the more he likes the end result.
“Anytime I feel pressure—a deadline or whatever—I tend to safety up,” he says.
Kelsey lives on a ranch outside of Guthrie, Texas, where he rides and keeps a few Longhorn steers. They all pack the T Lazy S brand, as do his sculptures of broke horses. “It usually goes on the left jaw, which is where I had it registered in Montana,” he says. “That was [my late wife] Sidni’s and my brand before we even got married.”