Local sculptor Sean O'Meallie is poised to hit the big time.
And in this case, "big" means 20 feet tall and over 3 tons - the size of "Cowboy Pajamas," which will be installed this month in downtown Denver.
"To work on this scale, and to be asked to do it - not have to go through a competition - and to get two trips to China - it feels good," O'Meallie said. "And people have been wonderful about it. Even the truck driver who delivered it was delighted."
O'Meallie has carved out a niche with his lively, hand-painted wood sculptures, which run the gamut from realism to pure abstraction. The stylized "Cowboy Pajamas" is midway between these extremes.
"And there's always a twist, sometimes humorous, sometimes intellectual," said artist Rodney Wood, who owned the Thunderstruck Gallery in Old Colorado City where the original "Cowboy Pajamas" was sold a decade or so ago.
Wood said you have to see art in many cities to fully appreciate O'Meallie's originality.
"Of what I'd guess you'd call the usual suspects in Colorado Springs, Sean is the one whose work should be much more widely known," Wood said.
O'Meallie was contacted about two years ago by a donor who for the moment is remaining anonymous. The donor asked O'Meallie if he'd like to create a piece that would be on public view on a patch of private land in downtown Denver.
O'Meallie based his design on an older sculpture that he thought would enlarge well.
"I don't even know who has it," he said of the original.
The new sculpture was cast in China. O'Meallie wanted to use an American foundry, but the price differential - even with two overseas trips for O'Meallie to supervise the work - was the difference between the project going forward or not.
"An American foundry would have digitally scanned the maquette (small-scale model) and carved a full-sized piece out of Styrofoam," he said. "The Chinese interpreted it. They drew a pencil grid, amplified it, and assembled the model from sticks and mud plaster. They've been doing it the same way for thousands of years."
In fact, "Cowboy Pajamas" wasn't even the largest piece the foundry was making at the time: That distinction goes to a standing Buddha that, at 308 feet tall, will be a little taller than the Statue of Liberty.
O'Meallie doesn't expect "Cowboy Pajamas" to usher in a new career creating monumental works.
"Working on smaller pieces is much more immediate," he said. "This required a lot of pre-planning. Money schedules drove it. You're factoring in margins of error. In many ways, it takes a lot of the fun out of it."
The project has been gratifying, he said, although he doesn't yet know what effect the finished piece will have.
"The first time I'll see this thing together and painted is at the installation," he said.
To learn more
Read about and see examples of Sean O'Meallie's work at the artist's Web site.
Read Mark Arnest's 2007 profile of O'Meallie at gazette.com