Hempstead horse trainer captures “Old West” in bronze models
The Waller County News Citizen/Thursday, October 14, 1999By Blevins BundickContributing Writer
Picture a 63-year-old, slightly bowlegged fellow with little rivers of creases running through his face and hands. You’d be quick to peg him as a man who’s spent most of his life outside on the back of a horse and you’d be right. He’s been a bronc buster, horse trainer and calf roper. Now, after 50 years of the cowboy life, Robert Luetge of Hempstead doesn’t move as easily or as quickly as he used to. But because of a friend’s advice two years ago, Luetge is engrossed in the cowboy life as never before. As an artist of western scenes, “From time to time”, Luetge says, “I would pick up pieces of wood lying around the barn and start whittling on them with my pocket knife. I had never considered this as any special talent. I merely thought of this as a “whittling habit.” Luetge credits Joe Speed, an “artistic friend” from Wharton, with encouraging him to develop his talent. “Mr. Speed had observed some wooden figures I had whittled out as a cutting horse, his rider, his saddle and calf. I had painted these little figures, displaced them on the fireplace mantel and from there, Speed recognized this God give talent of mine.” Speed, an accomplished sculptor, showed Luetge the basics of modeling in clay. Luetge worked in the unfamiliar medium for a year on the first piece, a calf roping scene. “I was inexperienced and I picked such a difficult scene, one that required so much precise detail that most pros would have had a real hard time with it,” he said. “The second scene required only about six months, since I had learned so much from the first work.” He later sold both scenes. Coming up with ideas for models poses little problem for Luetge. He merely draws from his years of experience in training horses, rodeoing and working cattle. Born in Brenham, he began breaking horses at age 12. Then, in 1966, bought a quarter horse stallion, Hank Leo, a horse he affectionately refers to as “Ole Hank” and credits with being a stabilizing force in his life. “I sold breeding services to 40 brood mares the first year I owned Ole Hank. He and I worked real well together in the sport I love, calf roping. Ole Hank’s the one, I wouldn’t be anything without that horse,” says Luetge. But his occupation wasn’t always financially rewarding. Luetge admits he sometimes questioned his sanity when he saw other persons driving fancy cars and wearing expensive clothes, items he could not afford. However, he decided to stick with the things he knew how to do best, a decision he does not regret. Although Luetge refers to his sculpting as simply “poodling”, his finished pieces reflect painstaking attention to detail and respect for a vanishing way of life. “Today, real cowboys and cowhands with real cow work experience such as life on the big ranches used to be, are becoming a thing of the past,” he says. “Too much asphalt is being poured on the real cowboys’ stomping grounds. Their range is disappearing like the range of much of our wildlife is disappearing.” Though still active in training horses, Luetge acknowledges retirement from that occupation is probably not very far away. When that happens, he say, he’ll just get busier with his “poodling”. Western art will be the richer.