The following letter and story is taken from the 2024 print publication about the Capitol Avenue Bronze project. The introductory letter is from Capital Avenue Bronze Project Chairman, Nathaniel T. Trelease. The subsequent story appears in the beginning of the publication as a narrative to how this project came to life.

“Great art ennobles experience and inspires the imagination, hanging lanterns in places of mind and soul that may be rarely visited.  Every great cultural capital of the world has one or many streets that inspire you to learn more about the place and causes you to grow.  In Washington, D.C., it’s the Mall east of the United States Capitol with its monuments and memorials to Washington, Lincoln, heroic sacrifice and valor in war, and its tribute to all of the states.  In Rome and London, there are many streets near the great basilicas and Houses of Parliament.  In Cheyenne, that street is Capitol Avenue.  

It’s easy to see.  Every season, fiercely cold or intolerably hot, visitors and residents walking or driving up Capitol Avenue pop into the middle of the street, cameras or smartphones in hand, risking traffic from behind, to capture a shot of the brightly lit Capitol glowing in the cold, dark night or vaguely shimmering in intense heat.  Some of these people turn around and try to capture the historic train depot in the distance to the south.  Every season, people from every state and the far corners of the world are drawn to this street.  There’s a reason: the architecture and history of the place inspires them.  

Capitol Ave Bronze Comission Members, L-R: Jeff Wallace, Caren Murray, Dixie Robers, Susan Samuelson, Nathanial T. Trelease, Harvey Deselms

That’s the purpose of the Capitol Avenue Bronze Project: To inspire learning about one of only 50 states, the smallest but one whose story is worthy of telling.  From the outset, the Capitol Avenue Bronze Commission wanted the project to embrace every aspect of the city and state’s story, not only the explorers and settlers, the statesmen and great women of the state, but also the city and state’s contribution to arts and letters, law and architecture, and to recognize its military heroes.  Honoring the state’s native population, after one of whose tribes the city of Cheyenne is named, was also very important to us.  We also extensively recognize the importance of wildlife and livestock to the state. 

Some of the historic figures we chose – such as Francis E. Warren and Nellie Tayloe Ross – are well known by name but their stories are more obscure.  Others such as Willis Van Devanter, J.E. Stimson, and Mary O’Hara may have their names known only to a few and contributions by still fewer.  That’s why we chose them. Each has made a special contribution to the story of the city and state, and their contributions, if more widely known, may inspire others in the state to similar achievements.

Jeff Wallace, a member of the Commission, once asked me, “what’s to keep someone in 20 or 30 years from tearing these statues down?”  There can be only one answer in an open and free political system: consent of the governed.  Over time, the sense of the people acting through their representatives wins out. That may be expressed through ballots or it may – more powerfully – be expressed through the settled cultural sense and consensus of a people.  

My hope is that as these statues weather and visibly age over the decades, they may mingle in the memories of residents and visitors alike so that if, many decades from now, a civic improver seeks to remove them, those efforts will be met with the firm belief that they are part of the landscape and should remain.  

I am personally grateful to Harvey Deselms for kindling the idea for more than a decade and sharing it with me at a propitious moment in my life; and to the members of the Capitol Avenue Bronze Commission – Dixie Roberts, Caren Murray, Susan Samuelson, and Jeff Wallace – for taking a risk and working to ensure that this historic project did not fall under the wave of everyday indifference.  Together, we specially recognize and honor Don “Dog” Jones, a Wyoming native and fifth generation mason, who has, often on his hands and knees but with a lapidary’s skill at cutting stone, personally built all the pedestals on which these statues rest as of this writing.

All members of the Commission are grateful to Mayor Patrick Collins for supporting the project from the very first day we proposed it and sustaining his commitment to the vision for the last 18 months. Without his support, this project would not have flourished and received such widespread support.

The project is not done. The story goes on.  Many other historic figures – Robert M. Carey, C.B. Irwin, General “Black Jack” Pershing, Dazee Bristol, and Jackson Pollock – are waiting for patrons who, like me, were inspired by childhood memories of walking near the Capitol and seeing the Liberty Bell and other great bronze statues nearby. There are many streets beyond Capitol Avenue waiting for imagination to play.  The story never ends.”

Very truly yours,

Nathaniel T. Trelease

Capitol Avenue Bronze Project, chairman

 

Harvey’s Dream

The Capitol Avenue Bronze Project began as a dream.  Quite literally.  Only the dream wasn’t about Capitol Avenue at the start.  Rather, it was about installing statues of animals on 17th Street in Cheyenne.  The dreamer was Harvey Deselms, the longtime proprietor of Deselms Fine Art.  As Harvey recalls, in his dream he would ask the doctors of Cheyenne to help beautify 17th Street with bronze sculptures of animals.

For 11 years, from his dream in 2010 to the first installation of the first statue in the rebooted Capitol Avenue Bronze Project in October 2021, Harvey kindled the hope of the project gaining wider recognition and support.  With the help of friends, Harvey would gather small donations.  When he had enough funding, he’d buy a statue and install it.  The project came to embrace not only animals but also human figures.

He was able to install three statues.  In 2010, with the support of that year’s class of Leadership Cheyenne, a program of the Chamber of Commerce to foster community leadership, he acquired and installed Duster, the statue of a cowboy on the southeast corner of Capitol Avenue and 16th Street.  It is fitting that the first statue of the project, on historic Capitol Avenue in the Capital City of the Old West was a cowboy.  

Two other statues followed.  In 2013, Harvey installed Priority Mail, a sculpture by Bobbie Carlyle.  Installed in front of the old post office on the northwest corner of Capitol Avenue and 21st Street it depicts children excitedly playing around and on top of a mailbox as they peek inside to see what the postman delivered. If you look casually at the dedication plaque, you will see the names of many of Harvey’s eastern Laramie County ranching family – parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.  If you look closely, you’ll also see the name of his beloved Jack Russell terrier Dot “Desecock.” There’s an untold story in Dot’s surname. Many others donated to Priority Mail, too.  

Moment and Momentum in Rhyme

Sometimes moment and momentum are in rhyme, and ideas or projects long-stalled suddenly gain the name of action, to adapt Shakespeare, and seem like they were always meant to be.  And so it was with the Capitol Avenue Bronze Project.  

In August 2021, Nathaniel Trelease’s mother passed away minutes short of her 96th birthday.  This concentrated his mind.  He had long wanted to leave Cheyenne with a legacy project for his family.  None of the ideas he considered inspired him and they soon faded.  He had known Harvey casually for a few years, using Deselms Fine Art to frame paintings. When he visited the gallery in September 2021, he admired several of the gallery’s bronze sculptures.  As Nathaniel was leaving the gallery, Harvey reminded him of a bronze project downtown, something Harvey had first raised with him in spring of that year.  

Nathaniel and Harvey continued to talk in the following days.  There’s a way of remaking this project, Nathaniel thought.  Tell the right story and people will be inspired in the same way he was; this is a once in a multi-generational opportunity to help tell the story of the state of Wyoming in art.  “But we need an official imprimatur,” he told Harvey.  The mayor needed to appoint a commission and announce the project.  Harvey emailed Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins, who quickly agreed to meet.

On a cold October 2021 morning, the mayor, Harvey, and Nathaniel met at the Paramount Café on south Capitol Avenue.  Tom Cobb, the city engineer, also joined.  “We need to do this differently,” Nathaniel told the mayor.  There needed to be a small commission.  It needed to be led by private parties who could push the project forward using only private money.  But the project would need the mayor’s support. 

The mayor did not need to be sold.  During a trip to Sheridan, he and his wife Judy admired the sculptures and he wondered, “why can’t Cheyenne do this?”  So, he seized on the opportunity.  Moment and momentum were in rhyme.  At the end of the meeting, the mayor looked at Nathaniel and asked, “who do you want to appoint to your commission?”  And that’s how it began.

The small commission came together quickly.  Dixie Roberts, Caren Murray, Susan Samuelson, and Jeff Wallace all agreed to join the Commission.  

Telling the Story of One of the 50 States

Those were exciting days.  The original plan was to secure donations of around 28 sculptures to fill Capitol Avenue from the Depot to the Capitol itself, one statue on every street corner.  We hoped others – individuals and families, churches and businesses – would be inspired to help tell the story of one of only 50 states.  

It was at this time that Nathaniel began to wonder about making this, in part, a history project.  Could we create statues of historic Wyoming figures like Francis E. Warren and Nellie Tayloe Ross, people who should be depicted but never were?  His idea started with four figures – Warren, Ross, Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie.  It was an audacious thought, this business of creating something that had never been done.  

Harvey embraced the idea and began calling artists – Guadalupe Barajas, George Lundeen and others – to ask whether they were available for figurative commissions.  Slowly at first and then quite rapidly, the ambitious plan of four figures of Wyoming historical figures, all north on Capitol Avenue, near the Capitol, grew to eight figures – now including the likes of Willis Van Devanter, an obscure figure to many but who was and is the only person from Wyoming to serve on the United States Supreme Court.  From that point on, the Bronze Project would be a blend of visions, incorporating both animals and Wyoming historic figures.  

Heady Days As the Story Spread

As the story spread, many donors emerged, both traditional donors and new donors, all of whom were inspired and eager to help foster the project.  Every day seemed to bring a new donor.  Paula Qualls, whose family are six generation members of the Frist Presbyterian Church on Capitol Avenue, was an early and active advocate of including her ancestor Therese Alberta Jenkins in the project.  An early advocate of women’s suffrage, she gave Wyoming’s statehood address.

Others, like St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, wanted to honor their special connections to Wyoming. Chief Washakie was an Episcopalian.  Susan Samuelson’s late sister Carol was a librarian.  Carol’s family wanted to highlight Wyoming’s contribution to letters and donated a statue of the novelist Mary O’Hara, who owned and worked from the Remount Ranch.  Still others, lifelong supporters of the arts and community organizations just wanted to help in any way they could.  Bob Born donated a statue of the explorer John Colter and Greg Dykeman a statue of Wyoming’s great photographer J.E. Stimson.  

The first installations came in October 2021, not long after the mayor announced the appointment of the commission.  The first was In Good Hands on Capitol Avenue and 21st Street, donated by Nathaniel in loving memory of his mother.  Very rapidly, the large map of Capitol Avenue that Harvey constructed out of cardboard – three feet by six feet  and hung from his gallery workroom – filled in. 

The stone of the pedestals was cut and joined together by Don Jones, a Wyoming native and fifth generation mason who has seemingly been involved in every major project in Laramie County, including the renovation of the Capitol.  He and Jake Johnson, owner of H.F. Johnson Masonry, were on site for every installation.  Don’s great skill and love for the project were clear to everyone who watched him at work.  He said he came out of retirement for this project because of his love for the state.

The Bronze Project branched out, beginning to embrace 17th Street.  Commitments to donate statues of animals poured in, fulfilling Harvey’s early vision of a visual corridor of animals on that street.  Carey Avenue, Warren Avenue, and Central Avenue all saw their share of installations, in the first 20 months of the project.  One of Harvey’s friends needled him saying, “you started as a crank and ended up as a visionary.”

That’s the story of 20 months, from October 2021 to May 2023.  In that time something remarkable happened in Cheyenne.  In that short period of time, what began as a dream became a story, and the story became a plan, and the plan was fulfilled.  It is a tribute to many, all of whom were inspired to preserve the history and heritage of the state, and be an example to the nation of Wyoming pride.