Q&A: The Story Behind an Iconic Sonoita Sculpture

This metal sculpture greets visitors to Sonoita along State Route 83.

The February issue of Arizona Highways featured a Where Is This? item familiar to residents of the Sonoita and Patagonia area: a metal cutout sculpture called Gathering Strays. The artwork, designed by sculptor and Sonoita resident Deborah Copenhaver Fellows, has been along State Route 83 just north of Sonoita since early 2008. It depicts a cowboy on horseback guiding a cow and a calf. From afar, the sculpture could almost fool you, because at sunset, it looks like the silhouette of a cowboy riding by.

This sculpture has become an iconic symbol of the Sonoita countryside. And readers of Arizona Highways might recognize Copenhaver Fellows' name — J.P.S. Brown wrote about her in our October 2016 issue. We asked her about her creation and how it came to life.

Tell us about the sculpture and how that project came about.
The Chamber of Commerce got in touch with me here in Sonoita, I think in about 2005, and they asked me to do signage for the communities of Elgin, Sonoita and Patagonia. Two signs for Sonoita, two signs for Patagonia and one sign for Elgin. They asked me to design them, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it, but I have one request: If I design all of those signs, would you allow me to do a large cutout of a cowboy driving a cow and calf?” And they said yes.

My point was, no matter what happens in this country down here, there would always be a cowboy on horseback driving a cow and calf.

How long did the sculpture take you, and how did that process work?
It was about three months. I did the design for it, and a company called T.A. CAID did the cutouts in Tucson. I did the graphics, and they did the cutouts. I sent it to them; they pointed it up, which means they made my drawings larger, and cut it out of quarter-inch steel. Then we had local individuals that created the frames, and then we put it up here in Sonoita, on the stand-up bars.

It was fun finding a spot for it where it reads so well in the sunset and the morning light.

About how big is the cutout?
From the tail of the horse to the tip of the calf’s nose, it’s about 34 feet long. It’s huge.

What other sculptures and cutouts do you have around Sonoita?
Cutouts for signage for the welcome signs in Elgin, Sonoita and Patagonia. I have a monument of a cowboy on horseback down at the fairgrounds here in Sonoita — it’s a tribute to the cowboy and ranching. I have an interesting one in Elgin, which is our wine country, of three women that are stomping grapes, and it’s humorous.

A year ago, in February, I made the Barry Goldwater that’s in the U.S. Capitol building, in Statuary Hall. Quite often, on the interviews in the evening, you’ll see the long-standing bronzes behind the interviewers and interviewees, and one of mine is there right now, I was commissioned by the state of Arizona to do that.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on an 8-foot cast-bronze monument for the city of San Antonio.

What kind of feedback have you had from the community about your creation?
I think they’re pretty happy with it. They use it a lot for postcards and advertising. It symbolizes the whole neighborhood.

— Emily Balli

For more on Deborah Copenhaver Fellows' work, visit the Fellows Studios website. And to read more about Sonoita and Patagonia, pick up a copy of our April issue, on newsstands now.

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