Rough Rider Revival: Recasting Proctor’s Theodore Roosevelt on Horseback

By Jane Friedman

In 1920, Henry Coe, a physician from Portland, Oregon commissioned a sculpture of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had died in 1919. He decided on the legendary artist Alexander Phimister Proctor, who was a friend of the late President. The result of the project, Rough Rider, was a larger-than-life bronze statue of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt sitting upon his horse during his service in the First United States Volunteer Calvary recruited to fight in the Spanish-American War.

Now, almost 100 years later, another cast has been made from the original plaster statue, with the assistance of FOG artist Jeff Oens. Proctor’s family rediscovered the original plaster work 15 years ago and it has been on display since that time at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. As Curator and Conservator of the Proctor Museum, Jeff has frequently been involved in restoring original Proctor bronzes and plaster works, and was excited for the opportunity to work with Kalispell Art Casting to create the new Roosevelt from the 1922 original mold.

The painstaking reconstruction requires bronze pours into dozens of separate molds to be welded together. The final result weighed over 2,900 pounds and will be on display in San Antonio, Texas, near the site where Roosevelt assembled his Second Cavalry Brigade, popularly known as the Rough Riders. For a rare view into the process of “lost wax” bronze production, click here to watch the 1922 silent movie showing the process this piece went through, for the first time, in film.

Proctor and Roosevelt first met at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition in 1893. The two became friends, and Roosevelt commissioned Proctor to replace the lion heads that decorated the limestone mantel in the White House State Dining Room with two North American bison heads, writing, “a beast which equally lends itself to decorative use and which possesses the advantage of being our own.” Proctor completed the work in 1909.

Proctor took great pains to ensure the accuracy of the Roosevelt sculpture, including obtaining uniforms and side arms from the President’s family so that every detail would be correct. Roosevelt’s sister remarked, “The figure of my brother-and the face also-are both unusually like the original, and there is a mixture of energy and repose about the whole composition that is remarkably characteristic of Theodore Roosevelt.” (The Oregon Daily Journal, June 17, 1922, p.11)