Look at Vail today with its bustling pedestrian thoroughfares, myriad dining and entertainment options and thousands of skiers on the slopes and it’s easy to imagine that it’s been here forever. But before the discovery of “white gold” in the Gore Valley (yes, that’s the proper name), this was a very different place.
In December, a new piece of public art joined the more than 45 works on display throughout Vail Village. It’s currently located in a temporary home behind the Sitzmark Lodge near Checkpoint Charlie; it’ll move to its permanent location in Slifer Square this summer after the snow melts. Titled “Pete’s Dream: The Founding of Vail,” this magnificent monument not only pays tribute to one of Vail’s most important pioneers, Pete Seibert, but also to the ranchers and homesteaders who settled this area.
It’s a project that Roger Tilkemeier and Bill Rey conceived of almost 25 years ago but it took another 20 years for project to be born when the duo commissioned sculptor Herb Mignery in May 2015 to create the piece. They wanted a physical monument to Siebert, without whom Vail would not be what it is today. However, they wanted more than just an unremarkable bust.
Mignery, a renowned American sculptor and member of the Cowboy Artists of America, was not only familiar with the valley (his pieces are also on display in Avon and at the Ford Amphitheater), but he also knew Siebert and had grown up on a ranch – so he was perfect for the job. But it was Tilkemeier who was the impetus for composition of the piece, which includes a cowboy on horseback.
“Roger is such a ranching scholar and has such depth in this Valley and he really wanted a link between the private landowners—the private rancher and ranching families that homesteaded the land,” says Bill Rey, owner of the Claggett/Rey Gallery in Vail Village.
“There were two game-changers in this valley," Tilkemeier adds. "One, when ranchers homesteaded and developed the land and water. The other was when Pete Seibert developed the ski resort. One would not exist without the other.”
Mignery started on the piece, creating a clay model called a maquette that was unveiled in 2016 (it’s now for sale in the Claggett/Rey Gallery). But having the design wasn’t enough. The final $300,000 price tag on the final piece was raised through donations from various donors and the Town of Vail; they will all be recognized on the plaque that will accompany the statue.
The finished piece, which has a French brown patina that will continue to darken and evolve with the elements, depicts a cowboy on horseback with his cattle dog, which Rey says represents all of the ranching families—the men, women, and children who settled this area. But the figure also represents an actual character from the area's pre-Vail history: a camp tender, who would provide supplies for the sheep camps up in the high country.
“And he'd come into Vail every once in a while and hitch his horses up at the hitching rail on Bridge Street and go to the Copper Bar or one of the bars to get a beer and he would always run into Pete and Pete would always have maps or plans or something on him and he would show him what next is happening,” Rey says.
The unnamed cowboy is peering down at Pete Siebert who has plans on his knee, stretching out his hand towards the mountain and describing his dream.
“I think it'll be a great visual educational component for years to come when they have the plaque up and people get to read like, oh yeah, this wasn't just this, you know, crazy little Manhattan in the mountains,” Rey says. “There was actually a time before Vail and it was ranchers and families that existed here and lumber mills, potato patches, cabbage patches, lettuce farms and whatnot. There was a whole time before Vail. But it’s a positive link for the fact that there was that private land and those families—it enabled Vail to actually happen.”
The formal ribbon-cutting for “Pete’s Dream: The Founding of Vail” is scheduled to take place over the July 4 holiday, 2020. 12 maquette-sized editions of the piece will also be available for sale at Claggett/Rey Gallery (100 E Meadow Dr, 970-476-9350, claggettrey.com).