The Art of Fencing

Kudos and applause for Tish Farrell whose generosity and photo made this post possible.
Tish- coil of wire

Buddy is a fence guy. He wears a black Stetson, leather chaps over denim jeans, a leather coat (or a vest in the Summer) covers a long sleeved blue work shirt and his heavy gloves are either on his hands or tucked into his belt. This is his uniform.

When I first met him, a number of years ago, he was working as an independent contractor in Lincoln County New Mexico. Buddy would take down old barbed wire and replace it with new. The life span of barbed wire is approximately 80 years. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the climate where the fence is located.

Buddy told me that he “figgered” In Lincoln County a fence was “prob’ly” good for 100 – 120 years. That’s a pretty good Return on Investment, there. When Buddy restrung a fence he would lay a coil of wire atop every fifth post. The coil would have enough wire to respan a single course between posts (usually a rod, 16.5 feet) on that particular fence-line. He did this as a courtesy to his employer and anyone who might have to repair the fence in the future. This ensured that there was always a bit of spare wire handy if needed, or if rustlers cut your fence.

Buddy, working by himself, could replace as much as 5 miles of fencing in a day. This could, and most certainly would, decrease if posts had to be replaced, braces, had to be replaced, or corner posts had to be rebuilt. But, if only new wire had to be strung then 5 miles was a realistic number. He worked long days. Typical fencing in those parts had three courses of wire. These were usually replaced with four. You see where I’m going with this, right?

At the end of a day Buddy had 15 miles of rusted old barbed wire to dispose of. That’s over 8,046 meters, about 8,800 yards, or 79,200 feet of barbed wire to be disposed of. How do you get rid of that much old wire? You can’t burn it. You can’t fit it in a trash can. You can take it to the land fill. You can take it to a recycler. Buddy chose to sculpt with most of it.

Buddy lived in an old Quonset hut outside of Capitan. He had a pack of maybe three dogs that worked with him. He had a big truck, a trailer, horses, stretchers, pliers, hammers, spools and spools of wire and a good supply of replacement posts. His home was surrounded by incredibly realistic; life size, or larger than life, sculptures of Elk, Bison, Long Horn Steer, Horses, Jackalopes, Coyotes, Mountain Lion, and Rattlers. He would build an armature of old rebar and wrap it with wire; around and around and around until his subject appeared. Phenomenal, Life-like.

I acquired three of his pieces. I have a Kokopelli, a rattler, and a yucca cactus in bloom featuring a nervous and hungry hummingbird.

Kokopelli is a Southwestern fertility god; the god of the harvest. He is normally depicted hunched over Quasimodo-like and playing his flute. My Kokopelli is more celebratory in posture. He has his head thrown back with his antennae whipping around in the breeze, like dreadlocks, his flute pointing skyward. One foot is planted firmly on the ground and the other raised in front of himself, as he highsteps in time to his own music. The rusty, barbed wire he is made of was likely new, and had been recently strung on a fence around the same time that Billy the Kid was making a name for himself as a gunfighter and regulator in the Lincoln County War of 1878.

If I stretched the snake out he’s about 6 feet long but he’s coiled up. His tail is raised and the forward half of his body is reared back as if he’s been threatened and is prepared to strike; his mouth is open, fangs are bared. Frequently, we have to reassure children who come to visit that he is not real. His body is almost 5 inches in diameter at its widest and as he has no armature to add stability, his pose induces motion. The old, rusted wire that he is made of allows a slight breeze to cause him to undulate as if he is deciding where exactly to strike his aggressor. If you touch him on the head he will bob and weave, like a prize fighter, for several minutes.

The yucca is the only example of plant life I ever saw in Buddy’s work. It is highly stylized but easily recognizable. The trunk is strong and brown. A nest of single strands, representing the leaves, extend bowl-like from the trunk about two and a half to three feet above grade. Rusted wire rises from the center of the bowl and changes gradually to new wire, silver in colour and not yet rusted (even though the piece has been outside at my house for more than 15 years) shaped as the blooms. A small wire hummingbird circles around the leaves tethered to the trunk by a single strand of wire about three and a half feet in length. The wind will cause the bird to dance around the sculpture. Kinetics! Bring these sculptures to life.

The point I was trying to make wasn’t about Buddy’s art. The point was about the man. His chosen line of work dictates a nomadic lifestyle. He goes where the work is. One day without a word to anyone, Buddy was gone. No one knows where he went but this photograph depicting the coil of wire on the post reminds me of his fence work. It makes me think he might be in the countryside around Wenlock. Y’all got any larger than life American Buffalo appearing around the countryside? If so, Tell Buddy, I said Hello.

Gracias Tish