When Frederick Prescott first came to Santa Fe 30 years ago, he fell in love.
"I'd heard about Santa Fe, but I didn't know what it was," the Bay Area native says.
A day and a half in our town, and Prescott was "mesmerized."
During that first trip, he remembers strolling into the Elaine Horwitz Gallery and seeing the place filled floor-to-ceiling with Fritz Scholder works, all averaging $18,000 and marked with red stickers.
"I remember thinking, 'Who is this guy? And who's Elaine Horwitz?'" he says.
After moving here, though, he didn't get the town and the town didn't get him. He was doing "real abstract" sculpture at the time—copper sunbursts and the like.
"I actually ran full-page ads in the New Mexican that read, 'No more cowboys and Indians,'" he laughs. "They were everywhere! And I hadn't opened my mind yet to looking at it and seeing it in a different way."
Soon, he ventured off from the abstract pieces and body casts that had been his bread and butter and started constructing colorful kinetic vignettes depicting cityscapes, slice-of-life scenes and even a life-size Muhammad Ali. He garnered collectors like Sylvester Stallone, and redefined the concept of Southwest art along the way.
Prescott also eventually embraced what had been his artistic kryptonite.
"Later on, I started doing cowboys and Indians—but in a totally different way," he explains, showing several archive pieces housed in his 30,000-square-foot Siler Park Lane working studio that prove his point.
Coming full circle, he started showing his artwork at Elaine Horwitz. "I couldn't make them fast enough," he says.
Those were the days, he notes, "when Santa Fe got crazy," and all you had to do was drop the city's name to get a solo show anywhere else in the United States and Europe.
He then gave into his animal instincts. While on a mountainous getaway, he was inspired to create a giant "moose on the loose," and a legend was born.
"I was welding the head on, and it didn't move, and I said, 'Wait a minute,'" he recalls. He spent the following month devising a way for its head to bob in the wind, mimicking a grazing motion.
Other steel behemoths—vibrant rams, pigs, lions and Texas longhorns—followed in the moose's footsteps, adorning public spaces in Santa Fe and private collections around the world.
"I started doing the animals and they just took over," he says, pointing at a dry-erase board where his schedule is jotted down. "Every weekend there's a new show," he says.
Finding his niche, he settled into what had been the previous home of the Nambé Foundry, where he now houses a gallery, showroom and a workspace that includes a neon studio, a trusty industrial plasma cutter—which he uses to cut the pieces that comprise the body parts of his steel zoo inhabitants—and a powerful, 20-feet-tall powder-coating oven—which, he says, can "easily cook 600 turkeys at a time."
Prescott's latest endeavor involves turning a fenced-in area of his workshop, which leads onto Agua Fria Street, into a full-fledged public sculpture park.
Prescott says he's racked up a number of sales by displaying his pieces in their "natural setting," and the park is his way of giving back.
Plans involve the construction of a koi pond, landscaping and adding LED lights to existing trees and poles.
"The people in the neighborhood love it," he says of the impetus behind what he hopes will be a free museum. He says that he often receives thank you cards from neighbors, just for being there.
"You couldn't pull off something like this on Canyon Road," he assures.
Standing in the middle of his outdoor menagerie, he takes a moment to take it all in.
"It's going to be kind of like Disneyland," he muses. "Disneyland for sculpture."