The Frederic S. Remington bronze sculpture, “Bronco Buster,” a fixture in the Oval Office of the White House since the presidency of Jimmy Carter in 1976, has apparently ridden off into the sunset as part of the decorating scheme of President Joseph Biden.
It was just one of the changes that President Biden made to the office. American presidents traditionally decorate the Oval Office to reflect their personal concerns and whims.
Mr. Remington (1861-1909) was a painter, illustrator, sculptor and writer who specialized in depictions of the American Old West. He was born in Canton and is buried in the village’s Evergreen Cemetery. The Frederic Remington Art Museum is in Ogdensburg, where its two “Bronco Busters” are highly prized.
Pictures of the Oval Office redesign under President Biden show no “Bronco Buster.” Among additions President Biden made is a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and a bust of President Harry Truman. Nearby, on the top shelf of a bookcase, there is a Western-theme sculpture, but it’s “Swift Messenger” by Santa Fe, N.M., artist Allan Houser, a renowned Apache Indian sculptor, painter, and teacher. The sculpture, of a Native American warrior riding swiftly, was gifted to the Smithsonian’s National Museum by the widow of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012, D-Hawaii). According to Native News Online, the White House has been loaned “Swift Messenger” by the Smithsonian Institution.
The Washington Post was allowed a 20-minute tour of the Oval Office before President Biden arrived on Jan. 20. In her description, Washington Post reporter Annie Linskey made no mention of the “Bronco Buster.” Other press reports also made no mention of it, and one specifically said it was taken away. The White House press office did not respond to a Times’ email sent Tuesday.
“Busts of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy flank a fireplace in the office,” Ms. Linskey wrote. “Biden often refers to the impact that both men made on the country as part of the Civil Rights movement.
Biden is also giving a nod to segments of the Democratic Party’s base via historic references. Behind the Resolute desk is a bust of Cesar Chavez.
Also included in the office are busts of Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Times reported in 2008 that Mr. Remington’s “Bronco Buster” had been on display in the Oval Office since 1976 and the term of President Jimmy Carter. It depicts an eager rider trying to hang onto a bucking bronco and is considered to be Mr. Remington’s most recognized work. It was Mr. Remington’s first in his total of 22 bronze sculptures.
“It’s the prerogative of every president to select artwork for his or her office,” said Laura Desmond, curator and education specialist at the Frederic Remington Art Museum.
There has been at least one other Remington art piece that has been in the Oval Office. A photo from August of 1981 shows the artist’s sculpture, “The Rattlesnake,” in the Oval Office of President Ronald Reagan. The piece features a cowboy on a horse that is twisting away from a rattlesnake. Ms. Desmond said the artwork was there through the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
The casting of “The Rattlesnake” owned by the Remington museum has a fingerprint on its tail left behind by the artist.
Ms. Desmond said museum staff follows the Oval Office art situation with interest.
“We are certainly interested in that, but we haven’t reached out in any way,” Ms. Desmond said. “It’s always been nice to see Remington’s work in the background when it appears in the Oval Office.”
Lora N. Nadolski, recently hired as executive director at the Remington museum, said the museum is aware of three art pieces by Mr. Remington in the White House. The president and first family can rotate that artwork in and out of the Oval Office or to even display at special functions. For example, past state dinners have featured works by Mr. Remington, Ms. Nadolski said.
In addition to “Bronco Buster,” the other two pieces by Mr. Remington in the White House collection are the sculpture, “Coming Through the Rye,” and his oil on panel painting, “Hands Up — The Capture of Finnegan.”
Mr. Remington’s “Bronco Buster” exists in about 300 casts. The artist, according to Ms. Nadolski and Ms. Desmond, worked with two different foundries and techniques to create them. They were first sand-cast at the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company, Manhattan. After the Roman Bronze Works was created in New York City in 1897, Mr. Remington used its “lost-wax” technique, new to the U.S., to cast “Bronco Buster.”
“The lost-wax process allowed Remington to make alterations in each individual cast, so that he could have a new sort of interpretation, or vision of that particular subject,” Ms. Desmond said. “So, there are slight variations that you see between the casts that are the result of Remington imposing a new vision on the subject. Some of those are very highly valued and appreciated as representations of his artistry and artistic vision.”
The Remington Art Museum has two “Bronco Buster” castings. One (-23) stands about 23-inches tall and the other (-19) is about 32-inches tall, since the artist decided to “size-up” his creation.
“When he was working on it he wrote, ‘This size lends itself to my hand much better than the smaller,’” Ms. Desmond said.
The smaller “Bronco Buster” at the museum was sand-cast at the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company and the larger one cast by Roman Bronze Works using the lost-wax bronze casting technique.
The “Bronco Buster” is one of the most iconic pieces of American art. Ms. Desmond was asked about its significance and symbolism. She prefaced her comments by noting “one of the marks of an enduring work of art is that of its ability to invite, and sustain multiple perspectives and interpretations.”
“One of the things that I think make a work like ‘Bronco Buster’ so engaging and appealing is that you can be with a group of people looking at it and discussing it, and different people will see different things in the artwork and have different interpretations,” Ms. Desmond said. “So, at the literal level, the sculpture is a cowboy taming a bronco — a wild horse that’s never been tamed for saddle. But people see it as metaphorical for the taming of the West by civilization. You could read it allegorically as any sort of challenge or conflict, the outcome which is uncertain.”
According to archival material from the White House of President George W. Bush, “In 1976 two sisters from Kentucky presented Fredric Remington’s ‘Bronco Buster,’ believing its display in the White House would ‘inspire a feeling of strength and determination of the American spirit’ characteristic of their father, the previous owner.”
Theodore Roosevelt was presented a casting of “Bronco Buster” by his Rough Riders troops. Mr. Roosevelt was elected president in 1901, serving through 1909. He and Mr. Remington were friends.
According to the White House Historical Association, in 1888, Mr. Remington drew a picture of a cowboy trying to tame a wild horse for an article in Century Magazine. The article was written by Mr. Roosevelt.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City says that “Bronco Buster” was adapted from Mr. Remington’s “Pitching Broncho,” a drawing published in Harper’s Weekly in April of 1892. The original mold dates to 1895.
The Rough Riders was a nickname given to the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish–American War, largely fought in Cuba and the Philippines. Mr. Roosevelt, a staunch advocate of Cuban independence, resigned his assistant secretary of the Navy post in order to form the regiment.
In the Times’ files, there is a copy of a newspaper clipping from the Sept. 15, 1898 issue of the New York Herald that described the troopers’ gift of the bronze “Broncho Buster” and the “parting scene between Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.”
Col. Roosevelt told his troopers: “No gift could have been so appropriate as this bronze (by) Frederic Remington. The men of the west and southwest — horsemen, riflemen and herders of cattle — have been the backbone of this regiment, which demonstrates that Uncle Sam has another reserve of fighting men to call upon if the necessity arises. The west stands ready to give tens of thousands of men like you, and we are only samples of the fighters the west can put forth.”
He added, “It is primarily an American regiment, and it is American because it is composed of all the races which have made America.”
The “Bronco Buster” given to Col. Roosevelt remained in his possession. It’s now displayed at the Sagamore Hill Historic Site in Great Neck.
Times news clerk Sarah Nichols and archive librarian Kelly Burdick contributed to this report.