- Dan Ostermiller, American, 1956 -
- Work Locations: Colorado
- United States
About the Artist
As the son of a noted taxidermist in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Dan Ostermiller grew up surrounded by animal forms. By training and working as a taxidermist himself, Ostermiller gained a strong understanding of the body language and anatomy of animals. Technical accuracy became second nature to him and provided him with the foundation to create artwork that is both realistic and expressive. He relocated to Loveland, Colorado, in the 1970s to be near the fine art foundries, where metal is melted and molded. Since then he has created over 312 original sculptures (over 40 at monumental scale, of which our Cow and Calf is the largest), and his studio works on 50 to 100 pieces at any given time.
For Scottish Angus Cow and Calf, Ostermiller began by creating a 30-inch bronze maquette (a small-scale version to use as a model) from photographs of the cows. Once the form of the sculpture was determined, it had to be enlarged to colossal scale. In order to determine the scale needed for the sculpture, Ostermiller moved several trucks around on the ranch and then viewed them from up to a half-mile away. From the bronze maquette, Ostermiller made a plaster version, placed it on a grid, and cut it into thin sections. Each slice was reproduced large-scale in Styrofoam, then matched up on a giant grid on the floor of his studio. The slices were then carved down and smoothed together to recreate the form of the cow. Ostermiller sent molds of the 13 different panels to a foundry in New York to be cast into bronze, and the bronze panels were returned to his Loveland studio unfinished. Because it was winter, Ostermiller wanted to assemble the cow inside. But he knew that once she was put together in the studio, she wouldn’t be able to fit out the door. He had to cut her apart in sections and reassemble her outside. He went through the same process to create the calf.
What Inspired It
Ostermiller was commissioned to create Scottish Angus Cow and Calf by Leo Hindery, a Colorado ranch owner who wanted to commemorate the cows of his own beloved Scottish Angus herd. Scottish Angus cows are bred for their amiable temperament and Hindery pampered his like pets. The cows loved having their heads scratched and were treated to corrals with water misters to keep them cool. They would even come to Hindery when called. Because his property near Larkspur, Colorado, is difficult to access, Hindery promised that he would donate the piece to a public institution if he ever sold the property.
Ostermiller spent some time meeting and photographing Hindery’s cows and found he especially loved the way they lay out in the pasture. Ostermiller avoids the “natural,” dioramalike poses used in taxidermy. These sculptures are supposed to imitate animals in their habitat, but Ostermiller’s animal poses come from his observations of animals and their behavior in his presence. “Whether or not the [animal] is ever in the position I’m using in my piece is secondary because the sculpture is my interpretation, my idea as to what makes a good design for the animal,” says Ostermiller.
Ostermiller applied chemicals to the bronze to create the black patina, or surface finish.
The whole sculpture is approximately 38 x 22 feet and weighs about 10,000 lbs. (5 tons). The animals are three times life-size, making the cow 13 feet tall. As a joke while making the cow in his Loveland studio, Ostermiller placed his secretary’s desk inside the sculpture.
To Ostermiller, the quality of shapes and design are of the utmost importance for creating expression, character, and charm. Notice, for instance, the roundness of the cow’s belly, folds of skin, and muscle contours. He says, “Information about animal anatomy is critical to sculpting, but for me, exaggeration of form for the sake of aesthetics is the goal.”
Grouping two (or more) animals together is a technique Ostermiller uses to increase the expressiveness of a piece. It allows him to convey intimate involvement and emotional interaction between the subjects and also provides interesting relationships of the forms from different viewpoints.
Ostermiller says, “Surface textures are important to me. Not the details of cat hair, for instance, but lines and serrations left by tools that direct your eye over the surface planes of the sculpture and throughout its compositions.”
Each of Hindery’s cows wore a bright yellow ear tag. Ostermiller’s cows also have ear tags, but their color comes from gold plating.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- Ostermiller had to deal with the idea of scale, as Cow and Calf are three times bigger than life sized. Have students work on understanding scale by distributing grid paper and having them draw a simple shape. Once they have done this, challenge them to draw the same shape double the size on another piece of grid paper.
- Ostermiller places multiple forms in his sculpture in order to exaggerate the expressive nature of his creations. Have children think of things in their life that are better when there are more of them. Have them draw these pairs on a piece of paper.
- Texture was also important to Ostermiller in regards to his sculpture, have students explore different textures by creating an art work that uses different fabrics, found objects, and paints to create differing textures.