Belle Fourche artist working on sculpture for Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center’s Sculpture Garden

Tony Chytka, Belle Fourche artist, works on his sculpture depicting four-time world champion saddle bronc rider Clint Johnson riding Kicking Bear. The sculpture is set to be unveiled Aug. 10 at the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center’s Sculpture Garden. Photo courtesy of Tony Chytka

BELLE FOURCHE — A large bronze sculpture of four-time world champion saddle bronc rider Clint Johnson, created by local artist Tony Chytka, is slated to be unveiled at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center’s Sculpture Garden in Fort Pierre on Aug. 10.

The statue will accompany the two current bronze statues of six-time world champion Casey Tibbs and five-time world champion Billy Etbauer respectively, also created by Chytka. Both were saddle bronc riders.

The center is a historical museum devoted to the official sport of South Dakota rodeo, its history, and its stars. 

This sculpture will compete Chytka’s set at the center.

“The reason they used those three was because those were the three winningest cowboys in South Dakota,” he said.

The newest bronze sculpture was inspired and crafted using a photograph of Johnson riding a horse called Kicking Bear, upon which he won his fourth championship.

According to Clint Johnson’s website, he began his rodeo career at the age of 10 at a 4-H rodeo. In high school he qualified for the South Dakota High School Finals from 1971-74, twice going to the National High School Finals. His dedication to rodeo began with a term on the board of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. He later spent four years on the PRCA Board of Directors.

Chytka said that Johnson was also a state wrestling champ. He said he used photographs to mold a 3-dimentional sculpture. The statue is three-quarter life-sized

“It’s about as big as I want to do because I handle it all myself,” he said.

Chytka said he began work on the piece last summer and expects to finish the sculpture in July.

“I’ve already cast the base,” he said. “I’m just about to the point where I’m going to start making my rubber mold. So now I just have the body of the horse and the figure left to kind of finalize and then I’ll start making my rubber molds on that. And then I’ll go right to casting it.”

When it’s completed, the hollow sculpture, comprised of about 50 pieces total, will weigh about 600 pounds.

“It’s kind of like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle,” Chytka said.

The local artist has worked with the rodeo center since it opened its doors in 1974.

The majority of Chytka’s subjects are ranch or rodeo related.

Chytka, a former rodeo competitor, who now lives east of Belle Fourche, grew up in Yankton. He came to the area to rodeo for and study art at Black Hills State University (BHSU).

Chytka started sculpting fired clay pottery in high school. He paid his way through college selling the pottery sculptures he made.

“And then slowly got into the transition of casting the bronzes,” he said. 

Being from the state and competing in rodeo, Chytka had the opportunity to meet the three of his sculpture garden subjects.

“That makes it kind of unique,” he said. “That’s what’s nice about it; having known these people.”

He said when he was rodeoing for BHSU, Johnson was competing for South Dakota State University. Chytka said that Casey Tibbs, the subject of his second sculpture at the garden, produced a rodeo near his home when he was about five years old and since then, he was familiar with the rodeo star.

“I’ve heard his name ever since I grew up,” he said.

Chytka knew Etbauer as well prior to him becoming his artistic subject.

Chytka said he’d been doing his own casting and foundry work since 1984. 

He’s created many well-know local sculptures including the Yellow Jacket “Sting” in front the Donald E. Young Sports and Fitness Center on the BHSU campus, the horse sculptures in Jorgenson Park in Spearfish, the bronze sculptures on State Street in downtown Belle Fourche, the statue depicting a Native American spearing a fish by the Spearfish Canyon Golf Club, and a miner sitting in front of the Days of 76 Rodeo Grounds in Deadwood, to name a few.

Chytka intends to continue practicing his art into the foreseeable future.

“Starving artists - I don’t think they get to retire, I think they just get to be tired,” he joked. “As long as arthritis don’t set it too much, I supposed I’ll keep plugging away.”

There are a limited number of 18-inch-by16-inch replicas of the Clint Johnson sculpture, as well as the other two statues, are available to purchase. Contact Cindy Bahe at (605) 494-1094 or cindyb@caseytibbs.com for replica number availability, cost, or for more information.

To see what the sculpture looks like, Chytka said that he placed a small marquette at the Steerfish Steak and Smoke restaurant in Spearfish.  

For more information about Chytka or his work, visit his website: http://www.trchytkabronze.com.

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